Despite the Citgo sign’s storied spot on the Boston skyline, there are no city protections to keep it there.
Now, there’s a growing push to change that.
The Boston Landmarks Commission next month will take up a measure that could grant official landmark status to the sign above Kenmore Square. And an online petition supporting that plan received nearly 1,100 signatures in its first four days.
The campaign comes as Boston University prepares to sell 660 Beacon St. — the building beneath the sign — and several other buildings in Kenmore Square. The university has said it hopes a new owner will preserve the sign, which Citgo leases, but has stopped short of requiring its retention as a term in the sale. That has preservationists, and many everyday Bostonians, worried that development on the site could alter the sign’s place on the skyline, block views of it from some angles, or lead to its removal altogether.
“It has become as iconic of Boston as Old North Church and the Swan Boats,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, which launched the signature drive. “We’re trying to demonstrate that there’s broad public support for keeping it.”
Landmark status wouldn’t bar all development on the site, but if the sign were declared a landmark, any proposal that affects it would require review by the Boston Landmarks Commission, a 13-member panel of architects and other development experts. That could derail major changes.
But first, the commission must decide if the sign is landmark-worthy. It’s a high bar. Just 91 buildings and places have that status citywide, and in the early 1980s commissioners decided against granting landmark status to the sign, though they did delay a planned demolition long enough that Citgo changed its mind about tearing it down.
Now they’ll consider it again. Commissioners are set to start the process July 12, with a vote on whether to commission a study, which could take several months. That would be followed by a vote. If two-thirds of the commission vote to make it a landmark, the matter would go to Mayor Martin J. Walsh and then to the City Council.
That takes time, and BU has said it aims to sell the building soon. But Galer hopes that just starting the process — and potentially thousands of signatures — would signal to a new owner that the Citgo sign ought to be treated very carefully.
“This is a great signal of what we’re facing in this city right now,” he said. “People are OK with development and change, but at what point do you push too far?”
Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.