Monday, March 27, 2006

The Spirit of 76

You've got to hand it to the good people of Los Angeles.
When it comes to historic preservation, their tastes run from the eclectic to the downright bizarre.
Example: At the same time that some residents are wringing their hands over the fate of the Tale O' the Pup hotdog stand, the Ambassador Hotel, one of the area's most visible and noteworthy landmarks, is being reduced to rubble to make room for a school.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in a town where preservation means face peels, an online petition is urging people to lock arms to save the Union 76 ball.
That's right, the large orange orb that has adrorned, or besmerched depending how you see it, our landscape for years, appearing on gas stations, atop radio antenas, on the sides of buildings...even serving as a beacon of hope in the vast, dark wilderness that is the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
This is historic preservation? The petioners think so.
"In 2005, ConocoPhillips, the Texas-based energy company thattook over the historic California Unocal refineries and gas stations in2002, commenced a campaign of design terrorism, ripping down the hugelypopular orange and blue "76" branded ball signs in favor of a genericflattened red and blue disk.
"To give the public a chance to be heard, an online petition has beenlaunched by the authors of L.A.'s 1947project crime history blog. Signersare declaring their intention to boycott if ConocoPhillips doesn't reversetheir redesign policy and show proper respect for the beloved 76 ball brand.
Petition co-writer Nathan Marsak, author of "Los Angeles Neon," says, "Oururban fabric will lose a groovy, sexy element of its attraction with thedisappearance of this turning orb, an orb that still speaks "progress!" and"fun!" as opposed to its replacement, which resembles some sort of gianttombstone."
His co-author Kim Cooper agrees:
"...This is the real deal. I just am baffled and disturbed byConocoPhillips' rebranding of the jaunty 76 orb...It seems like a lot of people agree. I feel like if we can just raise our voices in love for this classic piece of urban design, maybe they'll have to stop and reconsider, and the balls can be saved."
The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, as consumers with an abiding fondness for the striking, historic and uniquely Californian blue and orange ball-shaped Union 76 logo, be it on tall metal poles or car antennae (since 1967), hereby call on ConocoPhillips to reconsider their alteration of the 115-year-old brand, to cease replacing spherical blue and orange 76 balls at gas stations with flattened blue and red disks, and to restore the beloved spheres to the poles where they belong.
"If ConocoPhillips does not demonstrate greater respect for the the history and goodwill associated with the blue and orange 76 ball, we will be taking our business to other gas sellers. This petition is being launched on January 31, six days after ConocoPhillips posted fourth quarterly earnings of $3.7 billion, and we call for a sincere response to our concerns before the announcement of their next second quarterly earnings."
Whether these people are passionate preservationists or merry pranksters remains to be seen. But some of petition signers seems to be taking it all very seriously:
Says one: "Please save the blue and orange ball signs. If you dump that icon, you will, for one, display stupidity, and secondly, you might as well call the place something else beside 76. It's like McDonalds dumping the arches. Just wrong!"
Another writes: "Good design belongs to the people. It is presumptuous and inappropriate for a corporation to arbitrarily toss out a strong, historic logo in favor of such a poor substitute. "
"I used to buy from a 76 station only two blocks from my house," says another petition signer. "The day CONOCO/Phillips changed it to red and blue, I stopped patronizing it. There is logic and reason to allow diverse brands to co-exist under a common corporate flag without requiring the destruction of historic artifact simply for the sake of arrogant displays of smaller brand assimilation."
And finally, "I'm a vet. Was my blood not enough?"
As a friend commented to me, "Jeez, you'd think they were torching the Louvre."
As for me, I'd find all this amusing if it wasn't for the fact that so much of our past has been bulldozed into oblivion.
I wish they would have put as much effort into saving the Ambassador.

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