Boston’s Missing: Helion and the Giant Lollipops

Helion, orange lollipops, Robert Amory, Downtown Crossing’s giant, colorful, twirling lollipops moved away 20 years ago.

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.

Helios and the Sun Chariot

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.

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

100 Summer Street, Helion, Cabot Cabot and Forbes

100 Summer Street

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.

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.