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Students express disapproval as new Kenmore Square building slowly covers iconic BU Citgo sign

citgo sign obstructed by building
The Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, obstructed by a newly constructed building by real estate developer Related Beal. Several Boston University students have expressed disappointment in the gradual covering up of the iconic campus landmark. MOHAN GE/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The iconic Citgo sign on Boston University’s East Campus has slowly become obstructed by the construction of an adjacent commercial and retail building in Kenmore Square which began Fall 2019. 

The University sold 660 Beacon Street — the building on which the oil company sign has sat since 1940 — to real estate developer Related Beal in 2016 along with eight nearby properties. It originally housed Barnes and Noble at BU, the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and other University offices. 

Several students have expressed their disappointment at the gradual covering up of the 60-foot-by-60 foot LED-lit sign, noting its connection to campus. 

Sebastian Young, a sophomore in the Questrom School of Business, said the sign is most useful when navigating Boston. 

“I feel like I can always find the Citgo sign,” he said. “It’s more of just a landmark, I feel like if I get lost I could find my way back.”

He added the University should have considered the opinion of students when selling the East Campus properties, knowing the presence of the notable sign could be affected. 

“Talk to students about it … and [don’t] just do it,” he said. “We paid for the tuition, so might as well ask, right?”

A 2016 BU Today article published shortly after the agreement between BU and Related Beal reported that the University has tried to improve the appeal and safety of Kenmore for decades. 

The piece quoted Gary Nicksa, BU’s former senior vice president of operations, as calling Related Beal “a very high-quality firm with extensive experience in Boston” whose involvement should ease local concerns about the area. 

Derek Howe, the current senior vice president of operations, did not respond to request for comment. 

BU spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email the construction approval procedure was a long one and took several elements into consideration.  

“Related Beal went through an extensive public approvals process with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) where every factor of the development is presented and considered,” he wrote. “I’ve only heard positive comments about the beautiful new building.” 

Related Beal’s design plans have previously been criticized by the community for their departure from traditional Kenmore architecture. The Square has been around since the early 1900s. 

Bright white neon letters spelling out the word “WHOOP” recently appeared near the top of the glass-pane covered building next door to 660 Beacon Street. The Citgo sign is no longer fully visible when walking from the direction of Central Campus.  

Some students brought up the possibility of moving the Citgo sign upward to afford passers-by up and down Commonwealth Ave. an unobstructed view of the sign once more. 

Olivia LaRosa, a Metropolitan College master’s student and 2020 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she wondered whether or not the developers will consider shifting the sign sooner rather than later. 

“At least they’re not destroying it [or] taking it down, so maybe it will just be moved,” she said. “I’m just hoping it’s not going to be obscured for very much longer.”

LaRosa noted that in light of the sign’s gradual obstruction, the local community’s attachment to it seems to have been ignored. 

“[Related Beal] probably didn’t ask any students or faculty or people that live in the area and want to look at it,” she added. “It’s the one Boston landmark that’s on campus.” 

She added she was not previously aware the construction on East Campus would affect the Citgo sign’s visibility to any degree. 

Former City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced in March 2017 that Related Beal and Citgo had agreed the sign would remain in Kenmore Square for at least the next several decades. 

Previous efforts to remove the sign in the early 1980s were met with intense backlash from members of the community, who demanded it be granted landmark status.

Local baseball fans, in particular, have a deep attachment to the Citgo sign, given its view from Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. 

The developer’s website noted the Kenmore Square construction is meant to “define visibility of the Citgo sign for everyone, including neighbors, students, businesses, visitors, marathon runners and baseball fans.” 

Related Beal did not respond to multiple phone requests for comment, and the press inquiry email address on their website was returned to the sender as a nonexistent inbox. 

Juhi Nath, a second year graduate student in the School of Social Work, agreed that the ability to see the sign from different angles across the Charles River helps prevent students from losing their way in the large city. 

“It helps me remember where I am, I’m new to Boston,” she said. “I know a lot of undergrads use it as a way to get around.” 

She added if the sign were to become completely obscured, it would feel like “something missing” from the city skyline. 

LaRosa echoed a similar sentiment. 

“It’s such a piece of all of us here,” she said. “I have to go down there now to see what’s going on.” 

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  1. You’re right that in the contract the developer had agreed that the Citgo sign would be perched on one of its buildings

  2. Sounds like a bunch of whining. The new Data Sciences and Research Computing building completely obstructs the Citgo sign from parts of campus, but I guess that’s OK? Furthermore, the Whoop sign and the new building barely covers the Citgo Sign, which has been unobstructed for half a century. There are still many, many unobstructed views of the Citgo sign. Also, when Related Beal was asking the neighbors about the development, these students were in middle school. I doubt very much that this reporter actually sought comment from Related Beal. This is the kind of talk I’d expect from a neighbor who resists a changing neighborhood, not a student who is new to Boston and has no attachment to the sign.