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"Save the 76 Ball" Campaign Bears Fruit for MONA

By Kristin Friedrich
Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009, at 10:27AM
MONA's 76 Ball in Hiding David Svenson

A three-year endeavor came to fruition last Thursday, when the Museum of Neon Art, or MONA, finally procured its own Union 76 ball. It was a quest, says Director Kim Koga, that involved a grassroots “Save the 76 Ball” campaign, lots of negotiation, one accidentally shattered ball and a secret desert storage facility.

Union Oil of California’s circular orange logo dates back to the 1940s. It went 3-D in 1962, when the company debuted the rotating, plastic ball at the Seattle World’s Fair. In 2002, Union Oil, by then known as Unocal, was enveloped by ConocoPhillips, which re-branded the orange logo and began to take the balls down.

An unexpected tide of nostalgic protest reared its head. Local author, historian and Esotouric tour company co-founder Kim Cooper launched the website She gathered 3,000 signatures and campaigned to save and re-install some of the de-installed balls. Word made its way to Koga, who began to pursue a ball on behalf of MONA.

ConocoPhillips, eager to avoid ball backlash, offered appeasements. It would re-install a select number of orbs at West Coast gas stations (though they would be in the new red color, not orange) and donate several dozen to appropriate historic and conservation groups. MONA was chosen as a recipient in early 2007.

But that was just the first leg of the Downtown ball’s journey.

The orb’s diameter prevented entry into the museum’s current, temporary Old Bank District site. The sign company handling transportation tried popping the ball in half, but it shattered. A replacement ball traveled to MONA’s secret storage facility and was lifted, via crane, into its new home.

The secret facility, located somewhere in the California desert, is home to a handful of the museum’s largest, and unguarded, signs. “’Secret’ because over the course of my 10 years at MONA the fate of these signs has been interesting,” Koga said.

“We have to keep the location undisclosed to protect theft. Two 10-foot signs were stolen several years ago. And also to protect them from people who like to shoot things. When the average guy sees a 7-foot diameter orange sphere, the urge to do some target practice is overwhelming.”

The next challenge is figuring out how to show off the ball. Koga says expeditions to the secret facility are a distant possibility. Cooper wants it closer to home: “Maybe on a pole at the corner of Fourth and Main?”

Editor's note: blogdowntown suggests that the ball could be hoisted onto the old air raid siren at Main and Winston. Put your ideas in the comment section!


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