High Beams: Condition Orange
By PHIL PATTON
Published: July 16, 2006
ONCE, viewed from those movie-star houses high in the Hollywood Hills, the orange ball-shaped signs of Union 76 service stations floated like glowing citrus across the Los Angeles basin. At dusk, the slowly rotating balls looked like pushpins on a map of the city.
Now the orange spheres are winking out, one by one. A corporate image-changing program by ConocoPhillips, which owns the Union 76, Phillips 66 and Conoco brands, is replacing the balls with flat signs as part of a new standardized design for Union 76 service stations.
The 7.5-foot polycarbonate ball, created for the Union 76 exhibit at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, was designed by Ray Pedersen of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency.
Two California design buffs, Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak, have created a Web site (savethe76ball.com) to push for preservation of the orange icon and have begun a petition campaign to save some of the signs.
Mr. Pedersen, 80, who heard Ms. Cooper speaking on a radio program, has joined the effort. Michael Madsen, the actor best known for his role in the film “Reservoir Dogs,” supports their cause, as does the Society for Commercial Archaeology, an organization devoted to roadside architecture.
“We are trying to engage them in dialogue to save a few,” Ms. Cooper said in an e-mail message. “But from our observations, it seems like the remaining Hawaiian balls have been switched off, while a small percentage of the U.S. balls continue spinning, especially along the La Brea Boulevard corridor.” She said there were once about 400 Union 76 balls in the Los Angeles area.
Smaller versions of the orange ball are still available — the ones that attach to automobile radio antennas. Union 76 gas stations began handing out the mini-spheres in 1967, and they can still be bought online at happyballs.com.
Six weeks ago, I was contacted by a producer from the Laguna Woods Village (formerly Leisure World) community television station and invited to come down and appear on their morning cable TV show talking about the Save the 76 Ball campaign. We were offered a 10 minute slot, and told that many of their viewers were longtime supporters of Union 76.
Nathan and I agreed to make the hour-plus drive from L.A, and we were scheduled to be on the air this morning.
One week ago, we received the following message: "We have decided not to do this segment at this time. I am sorry for any inconvenience."
I asked for an explanation of why the segment had been cancelled and if we could reschedule, but there has been no reply.
It all seems a little odd. Could someone have "gotten to" them? Is the Save the 76 Ball campaign "too hot" for Leisure World?
Save the 76 Ball! It's Not Too Late!
When I wrote this little text about our campaign for the preservation journal of the SCA some months back, I didn't think they were going to put it on the cover of Road Notes!
I also didn't think the Hermon ball, beloved by Nathan and myself and featured in the photo we sent along, would be GONE by the time it was printed. But so it is.
Walking west on the Sunset Strip last night, I saw a terrible sight, perhaps an omen. A handsome backlit 76 ball on the North side of the street between Fairfax and Crescent Heights was suddenly shut off as my friends and I were enjoying it. It was as if the very sun had gone out.
Save the 76 Ball. It's not too late.
Here are the last of the 76 Ball short films shot by Earl Ma in Hawaii. He notes these are the first Hawaiian balls that he's seen with the spinning motors turned off, which has become sadly standard in Southern California.
If you care about the 76 Balls, please call Sylvia Hansen in External Communications at ConocoPhillips, (281) 293-1000. Request that she call Nathan Marsak back and open a dialogue about how to work together to turn this bad publicity around and save some balls.
Sand Island Union 76 station, 165 Sand Island Access Road, Honolulu, HI, April 2006
Miyazaki Airport Union 76 service station, Honolulu International Airport, 351 Rodgers Boulevard, Honolulu, HI, April 2006
Hi-Way Union 76 service station, Pearl City Shopping Center, 850 Kamehameha Highway, Pearl City, HI, April 2006
Bobby's Union 76 station, 99-236 Moanalua Road, Aiea, HI, April 2006