We Won!

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Nearly one year after we launched our campaign asking ConocoPhillips to reconsider their "destroy all balls" policy towards the historic blue and orange Union 76 Ball gas station signs, the Texas energy giant announced to the Wall Street Journal that they have changed their course. Focus groups held last fall told them what nearly 3000 signers of the Save the 76 Ball petition have already told us: people love the 76 Balls, and don't want them to disappear.

The 76 Balls that come off their poles are no longer being smashed or cut into pieces, but being preserved for donation to museums like the American Sign Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Museum of Neon Art and perhaps even the Smithsonian! And a new type of 76 Ball, colored red rather than orange, will soon be installed at up to 100 gas stations in the west.

But there are still good reasons for signing our petition. We believe that a select few historically and architecturally significant orange 76 Balls should remain where they have always glowed and spun, like at William Pereira's modernist 76 station in Beverly Hills, one of the spheres along Highway One in Malibu, and the station in Marysville, WA where 76 Ball designer Ray Pedersen buys his gas. Also, ConocoPhillips has declared that no private individuals will be able to get a 76 Ball, which will be a disappointment to our campaign's supporter Michael Madsen. We respectfully ask that ConocoPhillips reconsider this policy, and present one 76 Ball to the individual who conceived, designed and hand-painted the first 76 Ball for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair: Ray Pedersen.

And most importantly, we ask that ConocoPhillips commit to pay all costs associated with crating and shipping donated 76 Balls to the selected museums, thus enjoying greater tax benefits and sparing these institutions from having to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of their limited budgets in order to receive the gift of the 76 Ball.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported this campaign through 2006 and into 2007. This is inspiring proof that citizens have the power to reach large corporations and inspire positive change.

See A Vintage 76 Ball on Display at San Diego's Automotive Museum

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Several years after ConocoPhillips shipped a vintage 76 Ball to the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park, it was finally unboxed and installed in a mid-century car culture design icons display that includes a psychedelic VW microbus, a Woodie and an original Jack In The Box clown head.

Check out the museum director's playful blog entry about her 76 Ball installation adventure.

And if you're ever in San Diego, drop by the museum to pay a visit to the classic big orange ball, the object of our passion:

Halloween is here!

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Berkeley 76 Station revives Halloween Tradition

Palm Desert Station Owner Happy He Gets to Keep His Ball

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Riverside Press-Enterprise feature: Keep 76 ball rolling


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BOB PRATTE

David Hamm, the affable owner of the Palm Desert 76 gas station on Highway 111, heard good news last week.

His station will be a rare location with one of those 76 balls that became endangered when the chain's owner, ConocoPhillips, began taking them away. I am not aware of another station in the Coachella Valley or San Gorgonio Pass with a 76 ball. Hamm, instead of lamenting its loss, now can cheer.

"We thought we were going to have to get rid of it," said the station's manager, Dennis Finnell.

Hamm was saddened by the planned loss of the ball but did not fight its proposed removal. Finnell said Hamm was glad to hear a ball will be on his property.

The orange 76 ball, which debuted at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, was a familiar symbol to Southern California drivers since the 1960s.

Hamm's station was doomed to lose the ball in a few months during the installation of new signs and the painting of a red-and-white ConocoPhillips color scheme, which retains the old 76 logo, but in red.

The 76 stations on Beaumont Avenue near Interstate 10 in Beaumont and Hargrave Street off the freeway in Banning both received the red-and-white treatment but do not have balls. The Smoke Tree 76 in Palm Springs lacks a ball too.

ConocoPhillips, which acquired the 76 stations in 2002, began taking the old balls down a year later. Upset people started opposition Web sites and circulated petitions to try to save the balls.

ConocoPhillips marketing specialists, concerned about the backlash, relented and announced they would have balls at 100 high-profile stations. The Palm Desert station was chosen, but the ball won't be the nostalgic orange globe that now is in place. ConocoPhillips is replacing the orange balls with a new, red version displaying the 76 logo.

People love the old orange ball. In the gas biz, there is little affection for high prices and a lack of service. Why not keep something that is liked?

The choice of Hamm's service station is particularly appropriate. He actually provides service. He only charges a few cents extra for full-service gas pumping, customers know attendants by name and mechanics work on cars. It's an old-school place where the orange ball would be a symbol of small-business values from another era.

Monty Sabbah, owner of the 76 station on Monroe Street in Indio, was not so lucky. He lost his 76 ball during his station's repainting last spring. He wasn't even allowed to truck the old orange ball home. "They took it away," he said.

His customers were saddened by its removal. They told him it was a symbol that endured from their youth.

Sabbah said he only sees a few remaining 76 balls in Los Angeles and is not aware of any in the desert or Pass, besides the Palm Desert station.

"I like the old 76 ball," he said. "You remember it from years ago.

"It was sad. The 76 station in Smoke Tree Village in Palm Springs lacks a 76 ball too. We still have pictures and the memories."

Sabbah also has a small supply of those old 76 orange antenna balls. He's not a stingy man. In the tradition of the orange ball, he's willing to give them away to the first customers who ask.

Reach Bob Pratte at 951-763-3452 or bpratte@PE.com