76 Ball fan Marcello Vavala reported earlier this week that there were signs that the station at Santa Monica and Sawtelle might be about to lose its ball. Sure enough, the ball was cut from its pole the next morning, and dragged away to be destroyed.
And Marcello shares some observations, to help spot 76 Balls that face immediate danger. Unfortunately, we were not able to organize a protest to try to save this particular ball, but next time we might. PLEASE, if you see a 76 Ball that fits Marcello's description, drop us a line via our contact form ASAP.
Marcello reports: The new signage is up and the orange ball has been taken away. The replacement happened very fast, probably within 5 hours.
There are some observations I've made which may be helpful in the future (if they haven't been made already.)
1. The ball removal was the last phase of the remodel. If I remember correctly, the station itself received its red color scheme about a full month before the ball was removed. So perhaps that can be a signal for balls that will be removed soon--orange balls at red stations.
2. In this case, there was some site preparation. The area surrounding the pole was taped off--it was apparant that work was going to take place there. But just one day in advance.
3. The actual ball removal happened early in the morning. The pole was down at 8:30am so the work may have begun at 7am, maybe even 6am.
Hope this helps.
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
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
A reader writes to say: Someone correct me if I am wrong (but I believe I remembered this correctly!) -- the original Union 76 fiberglass BALLS (NOT DISKS) were manufactured ONLY in my hometown of Galva, Illinois (population 12[?]).
Just FYI (a little fun factoid): one Spring (I was, perhaps, nine years old), Galva was hit by a tornado, and the 76 balls (which were usually neatly lined up in rows OUTSIDE of the factory) were blown all over the town! My next-door neighboor was gifted by Mother Nature with one, and we rolled around inside of it until the fiberglass worked its nastiness on us!
I also remember someone a few blocks away cutting one in half for his dog to use as a doghouse! (I hope the dog escaped the wrath of the fiberglass!) I may have that wrong (I was young!), but I am fairly certain that Galva is the ONLY place where the infamous orange balls were manufactured! I'd like to know more information, if anyone has any!
Thanks! Sharon (Johnson) Palmer
P.S. Galva is sister city to Gavle, Sweden!