Save the 76 Ball

The Save the 76 Ball campaign was the first historic preservation project that Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave tackled as a couple. In late January 2006, Kim noticed that the 76 gas station near their home in northeast Los Angeles had a new color scheme–dark red had replaced the traditional sunny orange.

An internet search revealed that the 76 brand had recently been purchased by ConocoPhillips, and the Texas-based company had begun removing all of the stations’ historic, revolving 76 Ball signs and replacing them with flat disks.

Troubled that a classic of California design was vanishing with no public notice, Kim asked Richard to build her a website and enlisted the support of signage historian Nathan Marsak (author of Los Angeles Neon). Less than 12 hours later, Save the 76 Ball was launched.

The campaign began with a petition asking ConocoPhillips to reconsider its plans to remove all revolving 76 Ball signs. As thousands of signatures poured in from ball fans worldwide, a new spokeperson joined the cause: Ray Pedersen, the octagenarian design genius who had created the original 76 Ball sign for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Then the campaign got some star power, when actor and automotive enthusiast Michael Madsen volunteered to help. And a passionate petroliana collector named Earl Ma (RIP) provided extensive historic information and documentation of 76 Balls in the wild. The media fell in love with the cause, which gave headline writers an excuse to pen saucy puns on the word “balls” and chronicle the seemingly hopeless challenge of a few individuals taking on a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Status report: In January 2007, a ConocoPhillips spokeperson told the Wall Street Journal that the company was changing course. Based on the feedback of focus groups and the outpouring of affection for the ball-style sign, the company agreed to manufacture new revolving ball signs in the ConocoPhillips color scheme, and to donate some original orange ball signs to select museums. However, a great many vintage signs were still removed, and many of them destroyed by careless handling. The classic orange 76 ball is now a museum piece.

The Save the 76 Ball campaign appeared on the front pages of the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, The BBC, The New York Times, L.A. Business Journal, KIRO Seattle, Seattle P-I, ABC News, Preservation, Intersection, Autoweek, CityBeat, PR Week, BoingBoing.net.

The endangered 76 Ball even made a rare speaking appearance in two Zippy the Pinhead comic strips.