(January 30, 2007) -- One of the last remaining large orange "76 Balls" which once dotted "Union 76" service stations across the west is about to disappear from Long Beach.
As of midmorning January 30, the iconic sphere (which at night is internally illuminated and rotates gracefully atop a pole) remains at the NW corner of Bellflower Blvd/Abbeyfield St. across from the southern end of the Los Altos shopping center...but its days are numbered.
On ConocoPhillips directive, it's slated for replacement...either by a new sign which may be a square-type display (and includes a small ball in it) or possibly be a new type of stand-alone red ball, whose exact size and other particulars are uncertain to us as we post.
However one way or another, a Houston-based ConocoPhillips spokesman tells LBReport.com that the original orange ball will be replaced...and fencing already surrounds the pole at the Los Altos location.
Local manager Jack (friendly fellow, looks like he had pleased customers when we stopped by) said he isn't sure exactly when the old ball is coming down, but either way it's not his decision.
About a mile north at the NW corner of Bellflower Blvd./Spring St., an orange 76 Ball was replaced some time ago with this new display, which includes a Conoco reference.
Although we haven't seen any of the individually pole mounted red balls around LB, we have seen other displays like the one below although we're not sure how they fit in the scheme of things.
This sign is at a serve-yourself location at Spring/Studebaker.
The corporate directed change affects company stations throughout CA...and it so annoyed Los Angeles-based writer Kim Cooper that she launched a web site -- www.savethe76ball.com -- which has fumed about the switch for some time. The web site indicates Ms. Cooper and "signage historian" Nathan Marsak issued a press release about it and news stories have since periodically...and recently the "Save the 76 Ball" campaign percolated into the Wall Street Journal when Conoco said it wasn't pursuing a "destroy all balls" policy.
Reached by LBReport.com, Houston-based ConocoPhillips spokesman Phil Blackburn said the company was "pleasantly surprised" at people's feelings of nostalgia for the large orange ball logo...and ConocoPhillips is making plans to keep some of the original orange balls for preservation purposes, so they can be displayed in museums and other public areas in recognition of the sentiment people have for them. Mr. Blackburn said the firm is glad to do this for some of the balls if there are suitable places for them and they're in good shape.
We don't know the future plans for the Los Altos 76 Ball, which to our untrained eye looks like it's in pretty good shape.
The public's connection to the logo goes beyond gas stations: the 76 ball has been a conspicuous, almost ubiquitous Southland visibility. There were countless beloved but environmentally-unfriendly Styrofoam orange 76 car antenna balls...very useful in finding your car after shopping at [flashback coming] Zodys, Akron or other now-vanished venues. And we seem to recall one on the Dodger Stadium main scoreboard.
The bottom line: the orange 76 Ball in Los Altos (and other Conoco stations) will soon be a thing of the past...although thanks to some corporate sensibility a number of the originals will be preserved.
WWW.savethe76ball.com notes that 76 Balls that come off their poles can now be 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 acknowledges that "a new type of 76 Ball, colored red rather than orange, will soon be installed at up to 100 gas stations in the west."
As we post, no one we spoke with could tell us if a new red ball, or a new squared sign with a small ball, or something else, is slated to replace the soon to vanish Los Altos orange ball.
WWW.savethe76ball.com urges that a "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."
The web site adds, "Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported this [internet-based] campaign through 2006 and into 2007. This is inspiring proof that citizens have the power to reach large corporations and inspire positive change."