Roadside: The 76 Ball



Union Oil Company’s logo had been an orange circle with blue “76” numbers since World War II. In 1962, Union sponsored a “sky-ride” at the Seattle World’s Fair. Ray Pedersen, the account executive at Union’s advertising firm, Young & Rubicam, designed globe-shaped signs to adorn the ride’s stations, which could be seen from all directions.

 

The balls were a big hit, and found their way to thousands of the company’s gas stations, located on the west coast. These three-dimensional signs were the familiar colors, but they also rotated and lit up at night. Many of the balls were converted to jack-o-lanterns during the Halloween season, to the delight of many patrons.

 

In 1967, the California based company started giving away Styrofoam antenna balls—miniature versions of the advertising icon. The promotion was a great success, and inspired many imitators over the years. They are a symbol of West Coast car culture, and are still in demand.

 

In 2005, through a complicated series of corporate mergers, the company which was then known as Unocal, became part of mega-conglomerate ConocoPhillips. In an effort to unify its subsidiaries, Texas based ConocoPhillips began changing the colors at Union 76 stations to their own established red and blue color-scheme. Worst of all, they started removing and destroying the familiar 76 ball signs.

 

Los Angeles writer Kim Cooper was crushed to learn of the balls’ demise, so she and colleague Nathan Marsak started a web campaign to save the signs. Their online petition, containing more than 3,100 names changed the minds of ConocoPhillips executives, who decided to equip approximately 100 stations with new, red and blue 76 balls.

 

Furthermore, 30 of the original orange balls would be donated to museums, and one would be presented to designer Ray Pedersen for his personal collection. However, Cooper and Marsak continue to fight for orange balls to re-appear at significant stations, such as Jack Colker’s 76 in Beverly Hills.



The station was designed in 1965 by Gin Wong for the architectural firm William Pereira and Associates. At the corner of Crescent and “Little” Santa Monica, it is a famous example of space-age fantasy, Googie architecture. Jack Colker’s 76 is the sole remaining gas station in the city, and it has probably survived city re-planning due to its cultural significance. Surely, the people at ConocoPhillips see how cool it is.

 

You can join the movement by signing the petition at SaveThe76Ball.com. Perhaps we will once again see that wonderful, orange ball spinning like the California sun over Beverly Hills, Dodger Stadium, and elsewhere.






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