Boston’s Missing: Helion and the Giant Lollipops

Helion, 100 Summer Street, Boston, lollipops,

Photo by Ron Gemeinhardt

That is not a sentence I ever expected to write. Or, having written it, that it would make sense. But if you ever worked in Boston’s Financial District between 1975 and 2000, you knew this sculpture. Really, you couldn’t miss it.

Its 24 orange discs attached by metal rods to a large ball bearing whirled and twirled, spun and rotated 26 feet above the ground. When any one of the 24 bright orange discs caught a gust of wind, it spun and, if the gale was strong enough, the whole sculpture rotated. Watching it could be mesmerizing—and a little scary.

Helios and the Sun Chariot

Gloucester sculptor Robert Amory created the polyethylene and aluminum sculpture, which has the formal name of “Helion.” Most people just called it the Giant Lollipops, though.

John Singer Sargent, Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours, Boston Museum of Fine Arts,MFA

“Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours” by John Singer Sargent

Part of his ‘windflowers’ series, Mr. Amory named the sculpture after the Greek god Helios. According to the Greek myths, Helios drives the sun chariot from east to west across the sky each day. You can see a terrific mural of this same subject by John Singer Sargent at the Museum of Fine Arts, called “Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours.” (The god Apollo became conflated with Helios and eventually replaced him in the mythology.)

Surviving the Montreal Express

I remember watching the lollipops gyrate in a high wind and wondering if they could survive blasts from winter’s Montreal Express. I should not have worried. Mr. Amory tested scale models of the piece in an MIT wind tunnel to make sure the sculpture could not be blown apart, no matter how strong the gusts.

Helion, lollipops, 100 Summer Street, Boston, Financial District

Photo by Ron Gemeinhardt

In 1975 the sculpture was installed in front of the office building at 100 Summer Street, formerly the home of Cabot, Cabot and Forbes, the real estate firm. There it entertained 25 years of pedestrians, office workers, and people waiting for the express bus to Riverside. When the building was sold, its new owners requested that the lollipop be moved to a new home.

The request proved unpopular. Boston residents, especially art lovers, protested by claiming that the sculpture had become a landmark. And with good reason. It gave people something to watch and enjoy. It also provided directions:

“Where’s the bus stop?”
“See those giant orange lollipops…”

Why the Move?

But why? I mean, 100 Summer Street is a pretty garden-variety modern office building. The tall building with bronze-tinted windows rises 36 stories to a squared-off roof. Nothing of interest to see there. It doesn’t even make the top 25 tallest buildings in the city.

100 Summer Street’s does have one distinction, albeit a fictional one. The CW television show Arrowverse, 100 Summer Street shows 100 Summer Street as the fictional headquarters of Oliver Queen’s company, Queen Consolidated (later Palmer Technologies). That’s strictly B-Roll footage, though. The CW did not film the show at 100 Summer Street, or anywhere in Boston.

You would think that 100 Summer Street’s new owners would have welcomed a sculpture that set them apart from other ordinary office buildings in the area. Clearly not.

Riding Into the Sunset

Helion, Robert Amory, Madison Park Village

“Helion” at Madison Park Village

So, after 25 years in the Financial District, “Helion” disappeared like the sun god’s chariot going over the horizon. But, like the new day, it soon returned. “Helion” now resides in Madison Park Village, an apartment complex in Roxbury just to the west of Melnea Cass Boulevard.

The lollipops still roll and twirl, dip and rotate. Only now they are viewed by the tenants of residential buildings instead of office workers and riders of public transportation. The sculpture has more room now to do its thing in a high wind and it’s more likely to fascinate children than adults. I think that’s a good thing.

BTW: If anyone has a photo of “Helion’s” giant lollipops in its old location on Summer Street and would like to share it, please send it along. I will be happy to give you a photo credit. 

This entry was posted in Art and Museums, Boston and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , by Aline Kaplan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

13 thoughts on “Boston’s Missing: Helion and the Giant Lollipops

  1. I worked there in 1993. At the time 100 Summer Street was occupied by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. We called it the Lollipop Building. Sad to see that the lollipops are gone.

  2. I was a frequent out-of-town visitor to 100 Summer Street, not long (in hindsight) before the building was sold. I was very disappointed, on revisiting the area years later, to discover the “Lollipop Building” had been reduced to banal anonymity by removal of the sculpture.

    I was an avid photographer in those days and rarely traveled anywhere without my camera bag. I have a few Kodachrome slides of “Helion” in situ…please contact me if interested and I’ll scan some for you.

    • Thank you for writing, Ron. You were not the only person disappointed by this short-sighted decision. Yes, I would love to have one of your photos of Helion in its original location. Send one or two along and I will update my post with a “courtesy of” for your photo.

  3. Thanks for this post. I worked at 100 Summer Street from 1989 to 1991, and some people called the building the Lollipop Building. Did anyone send along a pic? Cheers.

    • Dear Aline : I am currently on FaceTime with Rob Amory. and have read your post to him. He is very thrilled and touched by your interest in the Helion sculpture. . I also read to him the other posts that were written in response. He is very grateful to all of you for your positive response to and ongoing recognition of the Lollipop sculpture after so many years. He sends you all his best regards.

      • Cathy: Thank you very much for bring my blog to Rob Amory’s attention and for sending this message. I love hearing from my readers and I am continually amazed by the people who take the time to write. Your message made my day.

        • Aline, I just read your response to Rob and he was so happy to receive it. He is not sure that he has a photo of the the sculpture in its original location. There is a black and white archived photo online that shows Rob climibing into the sculpture back in the day. Rob was so inspired that a friend and he went to Helion’s new location and they took a photo of Rob near the sculpture. Let me know if you would like to have a copy; I may be able to arrange to get it to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.