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Landmark steaming kettle sign to return to Government Center

NORTHBOROUGH — The paint is dry, the goldleaf is sparkling, and — most important — the dents are gone from Boston’s historic steaming kettle sign. After a months-long absence that began with an apparent truck crash, the landmark returns this week to its rightful place in Government Center.

The massive copper teapot, which dates to 1873 and is one of the nation’s oldest animated signs, will be hoisted into place on Thursday, and its famous spout is set to resume emitting steam by the end of the week. It was removed in the spring for what proved to be substantial repairs.


“We’ve had a lot of inquiries, and there’s been an edge to some of them, because people like it there,” said Peter Swartz, managing partner of the company that owns the Court Street building where the kettle hangs above a Starbucks store. “It’s surprising how popular it is.”

The Oriental Tea Co. unveiled the kettle in the 19th century, drawing notice with its innovative puffing action. For the nearly 150 years since, it has served as an easily visible meeting place and a subject of countless tourist photographs, even as the area around it dramatically changed from Scollay Square to Government Center.

For a time, the gilded teapot served as the icon of a chain of Steaming Kettle coffee shops, and to this day it beckons visitors to its storefront with the promise of caffeinated beverages. Starbucks refers to the store at 63-65 Court Street as its “Steaming Kettle” location.

“We’re really looking forward to getting that back up to complete that storefront,” said Maggie Jantzen, a spokeswoman for the coffee company, which oversaw the repairs.

It was a challenging job for the Northborough company tasked with restoring the landmark. ViewPoint Sign and Awning removed the kettle May 9 and began working on it soon after.


“When it came in, everyone’s standing around and scratching their heads, saying, “OK, what do we do now?” said Dave Randa, ViewPoint’s co-owner.

It’s not clear what happened to the sign. People in the area noticed one morning that it had been damaged, possibly by a truck, to the point where there was a hole in the side.

A police report from May 9 describes a truck hitting a nearby pole, but it gives no information about who was driving, and it doesn’t mention the kettle, Boston Police spokeswoman Myeshia Henderson said.

ViewPoint has worked on the Government Center Starbucks store before, repeatedly fixing the awnings after similar accidents. And they’re used to serious jobs: On Wednesday, workers in the company’s capacious shop were building a huge sign for a Planet Fitness location and preparing a stories-high display for a Revere shopping center.

But it’s rare to get a job quite like the roughly 300-pound kettle, which had to be handled with both historic sensitivity and skilled craftsmanship.

Given the extent of the damage and deterioration, the company had to bring in specialists — including a Woburn copper worker and a local plumber — to restore it to its former glory. They also had to replace the rotting wooden lid with a replica made of resin.

Once that was done, Duane Walker, a ViewPoint employee with three decades of signmaking experience, set to work on what might have been the most painstaking job of the process: covering the giant kettle in a thin film of gold.


He said he used nearly 1,250 2-by-2-inch sheets of the precious metal to complete the task. It took about 50 hours, he said, adding that the process was so consuming that he dreamed of goldleaf at night.

A few days ago, he repainted the black interior of the spout, and the job was done. All that remains is to hoist the kettle back into place and reconnect the steam supply. Randa estimated that the total cost would be at least $15,000.

Rosemarie Sansone, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, said in a statement that she can’t wait for the teapot to return, recalling how she used to get coffee at the store when she had her first job nearby.

“We are very excited about the Steaming Tea Kettle returning to Government Center,” she said. “I can’t imagine Boston without it.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.