76 Ball Gets Flattened in Tinsel Town

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76 Ball Gets Flattened in Tinsel Town

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Spinning orange ConocoPhillips' 76 balls are being replaced throughout the state with stationary, flat, red signs to provide consistency across the brand, and some residents -- among them actor Michael Madsen -- are protesting the change.

"Out at the corner of my street is a 76 station. It was about six months ago, and I remember seeing the ball missing," Los Angeles resident Kim Cooper told ABCNews. "I was disoriented, and then I decided I wasn't going to look there anymore."

In protest, Cooper founded a web site, SaveThe76Ball.com, to gather support for the local icons. The grass roots movement has 2,715 signatures on the online petition to date, most of which claim they will not patronize Phillips' 76 stations again. Among them is actor Michael Madsen, best known for his role in the bloody Quentin Tarantino film, "Reservoir Dogs," who has contacted Cooper to help her cause.

"As someone who moved out to California in the '80s, Madsen has seen a lot of these landmarks disappear," Cooper told ABCNews. "He was worried that his children were going to grow up in a generic world."

Cooper believes that ConocoPhillips is pulling rank on former Unocal stations, which were bought by ConocoPhilips years ago. "There are many long-standing rivals in the oil industry. … I'm sure on some level that now that ConocoPhillips of Texas is in charge of Union Oil of California, they feel like they're going to destroy [Unocal's] sign and there's nothing [Unocal] can do about it. 'We don't care if we lose money at the 76 pumps, if we alienate their customers, because we're already making record profits.' "

ConocoPhillips released an official statement to ABCNews that the company is "implementing a nationwide transition of its 76, Phillips 66 and Conoco branded stations to a common image. The intent of this transition is to leverage the strengths of each brand while also offering consistency in appearance across our brands. Thus, the formerly orange 76 logo is now red."

Cooper sees the new design as a downgrade. "That orange and blue that looks so good in the orange red sky. To then just get rid of that and come up with a sign that some design student would get an 'F' for," she told ABCNews.

Creator of the iconic sphere, Ray Pedersen, recalls that the company has used such flat signs before. Pedersen created the spherical design and debuted it at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. "At the time, Union Oil was just using a flat lollipop," Pedersen told ABCNews. "I just resisted that lollipop. It would be hard to evolve, and it just didn't have three-dimensional visibility. You could only see it from one or two directions."

Chief executive for Design Forum, Scott Jeffrey, told ABCNews, "There are only so many shapes out there and 76 owns the sphere. It'd be really difficult in my mind to say, 'Let's go look for something else.' … I think, in this case, it will backfire. That 76 ball is interruptive. It's everything that you ask a sign to be."

ConocoPhillips 76 station owner Steve Speckman sees no problem with the rotating signs. He has worked at or owned a 76 station since 1972, and told ABC "The only problem I ever had with the sign was the belt that ran the motor would break about every two years, and I would have to pay to have it fixed … until the day they took it down and cut it into pieces."

"One thing, though, I am convinced of in my 34 years -- the majority of the people go where the cheapest price is, whether it's a Pegasus, a big Shell, an Arco, a Techron additive or just Costco. Loyalty went out the window years ago," Speckman added.

ConocoPhillips has a large job ahead as there were more than 3,200 spinning 76 balls in the nation at its peak, ABCNews reported.