Acclaimed KNX reporter Michael Linder has a nice feature on the Save the 76 Ball campaign in his weekend blog. Click over to enjoy a very clever montage of images, or just read on. Thanks, Michael!
Pinhead to the rescue of giant 76 balls! You know — those orange and blue globes being uprooted from gas stations across the Southland while Los Angeles culture aficionados howl.
The branding switcheroo is fallout from ConocoPhillips purchase of Union 76. Flat signage in ConocoPhillips red is replacing the big orange balls which were designed by Ray Pederson for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The spheres have taken on urban treasure status among cultural preservationists who regard them as historic Jet Age flashbacks — like the Jetsonesque theme restaurant at LAX which also made its debut in ‘62.
This week, cartoonist Bill Griffith announced his “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip is taking up the cause. Griffith’s passion for classic signs is legendary. We recently caught Zippy in print, chatting with the Felix Chevrolet sign at Jefferson and Figueroa. And, he’s got clout. Seen in over 200 newspapers, Zip’s strip is credited with saving the Bay Area’s Doggie Diner weiner dog signs from destruction.
Dogged determination by Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak is fueling the campaign. The duo publish The 1947 Project, one of our all-time fave explorations into Los Angeles’ colorful past. (Our KNX news story streams here.) More than 2,300 signatures from motorists threatening to boycott have been gathered at their Save the 76 Ball site. “If that ball goes, so does this customer!”
ConocoPhillips hasn’t backed down despite a steady stream of media attention to the cause célèbre. Even the BBC is onto gas station castration. Actor Michael Madsen (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Kill Bill”) told the Beeb, “There seems to be this driving force to tear down everything that’s a little old. These are things that were landmarks, a symbol that I remember from childhood.” Madsen says he tried to buy a ball but was told they are destined to be crushed. “What’s the point of smashing them and putting up flat signs?”
Indeed! Not to mention the way some of the balls magically morph into Halloween jack-o-lanterns every October. Three dollar gas, now this.
Thanks to Brandi at Team Madsen, we can offer interested 76 Ball fans this graphic and email text to send out to people who you think would like to know about the campaign. Just right-click the image and save it to your desktop, then you can send it out in emails. We appreciate all your comments, great ideas and support from around the world. Spread the word and together we can Save Our Balls!
Please click the image above to visit the site and learn how you too can help save a part of America's history. If you are unable to visit the link by clicking the image - you can just copy and paste the following link into your web browser: http://www.savethe76ball.com/ Campaign was started and is run by Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak. Supporters include the "76 Ball" creator Ray Pederson and actor Michael Madsen.
Please forward this email to anyone and everyone who you think may support our fight! Thank you for your support!!!!!
Disclaimer: Email and logo above were created by Brandi Blanchard "FilmReelGirl Productions (c) 2006" in support of the Save the 76 Ball Campaign. Pictures used in the above logo were taken from these websites: The BBC and Save the 76 Ball and they retain their original copyrights. This email was sent to you by an acquaintance in the hopes that you would support our fight. If you do not feel the need to support the campaign, please disregard and delete this email as you are not on any mailing list to receive any more.
Actor fights for Hollywood balls
By Chris Vallance, BBC News
Hollywood actor Michael Madsen, best known for his roles in films such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and Sin City, has thrown his weight behind a web-based campaign to save an iconic piece of Americana.
The Union 76 petrol station signs, otherwise known as the "76 Ball", have been a feature of the Los Angeles landscape for nearly 50 years.
The large orange spheres were created by designer Ray Pedersen for the 1962 Seattle World's fair.
The signs have even had cameo appearances in Hollywood movies - one was knocked down by a rampaging T-Rex in the film Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
But the 76 balls, which adorn petrol stations across the Western US, are being replaced with more conservative flat signs by Union 76's Texan parent company ConocoPhillips, sparking a blog-based campaign for their preservation.
Madsen said he decided to join the cause after seeing a newspaper report detailing blogger Kim Cooper's efforts to save the historic signs.
"There seems to be this driving force to tear down everything that's a little old", he told the BBC.
"These are things that were landmarks, it's a symbol that I remember from childhood. What's the point of smashing them and putting up flat signs?"
In Madsen's view Los Angeles' increasingly bland environment is representative of a process of thoughtless modernisation that is taking over the movies too, "everything is just getting completely homogenised", the actor said.
"I grew up in a time when I watched actors like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum... those are the movies that I liked and I responded to.
"They're all gone now and there's no talent like that anymore, there's no immensity of talent that exists like that in the motion picture industry.
The same thing is happening to the motion picture industry that is happening to the landscape
"Even the movies are turning into a bunch of junk.
"They think if they put a handsome face in there or a good-looking body and they surround it with enough cars blowing up, that it is going to be entertaining... but in the long run it's just not going to last.
"It's all empty, there's no story anymore... the same thing is happening to the motion picture industry that is happening to the landscape."
As well as lending his voice to the campaign Madsen has made a personal effort to save the signs from destruction.
Having been tipped off about a facility where dismantled balls we being kept he attempted to purchase one, but was told that they were all going to be crushed.
He said, "I get so mystified by things like that. Not only do they want to take them down, but they are going to make sure they smash everyone of them into pieces."
The 76 Ball is not the first piece of disappearing street furniture that the star has attempted to save.
He is also buying one of Britain's old red telephone boxes in an effort to preserve a little bit of the London that he remembers.
"I'm in the process of purchasing one of the phone boxes for myself and having it put up in the front of the garden. My kids aren't going to see the same London that I saw, my kids aren't going to see the same California that I saw."
Burma-Shave rhyme signs, Howard Johnson's orange roofs, KFC's revolving chicken buckets: all pieces of modern Americana that today exist mostly in memory alone. Now, the iconic orange-and-blue Union 76 gas-station ball is on its way to joining them - unless Kim Cooper can stop it.
Cooper, 39, is a native Angelino and self-proclaimed "ultimate dilettante." From editing and publishing Scram, a journal of un- popular culture, to co-hosting the "1947project," a blog and bus-tour series highlighting LA's off-the-beaten-path crime sites, "my job is rescuing the underdog from neglect and destruction," she says.
The underdog this time is the 76 ball, the 45-year-old victim of a quiet marketing shift that began just after the 2002 merger of gas giants Conoco and Phillips.
According to its 2004 annual report, ConocoPhillips, which operates Conoco and Phillips gas stations, as well as 76, that year initiated a project to streamline the three brands' marketing efforts. So while its Web site refers to the 76 logo as "a long-trusted symbol [that] means something special to our customers," its most recent graphic-standards manual calls for a brand-consistent red-and-blue color scheme, rather than the historic, eye-popping orange.
"They began knocking down the 76 balls," Cooper recalls. These omnipresent symbols for gasoline in many parts of the US were methodically being substituted with ground-level "monuments" or taller, disc-shaped signage. Many of the LA area's 400 spheres have already been replaced, including the one that rose above Dodger Stadium for decades.
Cooper teamed with LA author Nathan Marsak in January to launch www.savethe76ball.com, a Web site dedicated to preserving the 76 balls "for generations to come." Featuring 76 sphere-related news, history, photos, and discussion, the site includes downloadable "I love your 76 ball" calling cards and a link to an online petition urging ball lovers to boycott ConocoPhillips-brand outlets if the company "does not demonstrate greater respect for the history and good will associated with the 76 ball."
Orb enthusiasts have responded in droves. The petition has 2,100-plus signatures, many accompanied by wistful, ball-inspired recollections and pledges to pump at Exxon or Shell. |
Cooper's endeavor has been showcased by media outlets from the LA Times to the BBC. Actor Michael Madsen even offered to help out, then asked where he could get his hands on a retired sphere. And following a Seattle radio interview, Cooper was contacted by former Young & Rubicam art director Ray Pederson - the man who designed the original ball as signage for a Union Oil Co.-sponsored sky-tram ride at the 1962 World's Fair - who offered his enthusiastic support.
Although ConocoPhillips has issued a statement thanking 76 ball junkies for their patronage, the company has yet to discontinue its icon-devastating, brand-continuity effort. But "the fact that people feel as strongly as they do about the balls," Cooper says, is a testament to their resonance.
"Children look for the 76 pumpkin every Halloween, and it makes them happy," she says. And the company's ubiquitous car-antenna mini-balls, introduced in 1967, became both a promotional coup and a still-strong fad: By the late 1990s, 76 was dolling out 4 million toppers every year.
Cooper admits that on some level, the effort is prank-like and "silly." She says she's "been attacked by people for putting my energies into this rather frivolous and highly charged campaign."
But saving the 76 sphere is about more than a gas-station sign. "If you don't look at what's around you, it's very easy to not care if things get knocked down and destroyed, things that actually reflect the culture, history, and changes of your place," she explains. "I think it's a tragedy."
Exhibition coordinator and librarian, LA Museum of Contemporary Art
Researcher, The Oakland Museum of California
Copyright © 2005 PRWeek
photo by Ricardo DeAratanha, LA Times