Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

The Man Behind The Most Famous Sign In Sports

Fenway Park

In the world of sports, the Citgo signhas a special place.

Aside from serving as a navigational landmark to Boston’s population and tourists that visit, the sign makes its way into the Fenway Park panorama by its seemingly perfect placement over the Green Monster in left field.

But, starting tomorrow night, the famous 60-foot tall by 60-foot wide sign– that has 218,000 LED lights and is the largest sign in New England — will go dark for at least a month in order to upgrade its lighting system.

Five years after its last major renovation, new and more efficient lights that will be more resistant to bad weather and UV rays will be installed. The sign will light up in time for Citgo’s 100th anniversary on Sept. 2.

In order to learn more about the sign’s history, we talked to the “Keeper of the Sign.”

His name is Martin Foley of Foley Electric and his story is remarkable. Since 1965, when the Cities Services sign was replaced by the Citgo logo, Foley has serviced it, making sure it continued to light up at night.

Darren: How did you get this unique job?

Foley: In 1965, I was working for a company called C.I. Brink and they had the contract to do it. I remember the day when they first painted the Citgo sign. They brought up this big five gallon bucket of paint and the wind was blowing so hard, it flipped over. Unfortunately, the paint hit some poor guy in a suit who was walking to his job interview.

Darren: When is the point where people really started to love the sign?

Foley: They shut it down for about four years because of the energy crisis (1979-1983) and Citgo was going to take it down. That’s when people got upset and it became a landmark. I obviously wasn’t working on the sign anymore and had left to start my own business, but when they tried to get it to light up again, the men who were servicing it couldn’t do it. They wanted to build staging around the sign and that was too expensive. There’s a hook at the top of the sign and we’d tie my chair on the bottom and I’d swing around the sign and do it that way. So they called me to do the job and I’ve been servicing it ever since.

Darren: How do you get up there?

Martin Foley climbs the Citgo sign at Fenway Park
Photo by: Martin Foley

Foley: It’s on the roof of the Barnes & Noble building (about 1,200 feet from Fenway’s home plate) and there’s a straight metal ladder on the sign. I open the door to the roof, go to the other side where the sign is located, climb up the ladder and today, there’s scaffolding that I can stand on.

Darren: How often have you gone up there?

Foley: It’s a once-a-week job. I check everything to make sure everything is OK and that nothing is damaged.

Darren: Why specifically do they need to do this renovation now?

Foley: It’s all falling apart. The sign takes a beating during the winter time from the heavy winds and rain and the LED lights that we used six years ago aren’t being made anymore. So I really ran out of parts.

Darren: Are you part of the renovation?

Foley: I went up there with the company from Texas (Federal Heath Sign Company) and showed them where everything was. They are going to take the old controls out and put the new controls in and change out all the lights and put install the new ones.

Darren: Are people allowed to make trips up to the sign?

The old sign had a lot of bullet holes in it. I think people were bored late at night and they had a gun and they just took shots at it.
Foley Electric
Martin Foley

Foley: No.

Darren: So what can you tell us about what you’ve found up there?

Foley: Well, the old sign had a lot of bullet holes in it. I think people were bored late at night and they had a gun and they just took shots at it. I know some kids at MIT snuck up there.

Darren: How?

Foley: I found a kid’s picture ID up there one day.

Darren: What’s the worst thing that has ever happened up there?

Foley: One day I was up there and the wind almost blew me over. We also had a fire up there one time when the circuits shorted. We had a five gallon bucket of tools and I dumped out the tools and went to the water closet on the sixth floor of the building, filled it with water and we tied the bucket to a pulley and poured it on the fire. The plastic was melting, but we finally got it out.

Darren: You’re now 65 years old. How long are you going to do this for?

Foley: I’ve been doing it for 45 years, so it has kind of become part of me. I climb the ladder, I remember people, I remember moments. It’s sentimental. People have wanted to buy my company, but this is the part of my job that would be so hard to give up.

Questions?  Comments?