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Unocal Workers Auction Memorabilia for Charity

Times Staff Writer

Even the tchotchkes of Unocal are being sold off.

The storied oil company was sold last week to Chevron Corp. in an $18-billion deal after rival bidder CNOOC Ltd. of China backed out. But in July, when it was apparent that El Segundo-based Unocal Corp. would disappear, employees started collecting memorabilia, keepsakes and artwork that had been stuffed in closets or hung on the walls of offices soon to be vacated.

“There were photographs of service stations from the 1920s, paintings, little jade elephants, commemorative cups,” said Pam McVicar, a project manager at Unocal.

None of the items would be considered high art. But a charity Internet auction -- organized by employees -- of about 1,500 of the mementos reaped $19,000 for the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles.

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The highest bid was $3,200 for a watercolor of a gas station that was done by California artist Millard Owen Sheets.

The next big seller was a 9-by-12-inch jade sculpture featuring three elephants, which brought $1,600. The undated piece had been presented to a Unocal executive by a Chinese oil company in the 1980s.

“We had an active licensing program for refineries around the world that used our technology,” said Barry Lane, a spokesman for Unocal who remains at the company. “These kind of items were gifts that would come in.”

Other Chinese items included vases, silk drawings and a depiction of roosters and flowers made with shells and feathers.

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“We found them in closets and storerooms in the company headquarters,” Lane said.

Many of the items were all-American bowling trophies and other sports awards. And there were numerous commemorative pieces from Unocal’s centennial celebration 15 years ago.

Also placed on the block were dishes from the executive dining room at the company’s Hartley Research Center in Brea and artwork that hung on the walls of the complex where 1,000 Unocal employees once worked.

Named after longtime Chief Executive Fred Hartley, who died in 1990, the Hartley center was cleared out in July and demolished. Chevron said Unocal’s former headquarters in El Segundo also would be vacated.

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Of Unocal’s 6,400 employees at the time of the sale, about 5,000 have been offered jobs by Chevron. McVicar said she was not one of them, although she remained at her job and an offer could still come. She has worked at Unocal for 22 years.

It was employees like her -- who spent a major part of their lives at Unocal -- who flocked to the virtual auction. McVicar said more that 90% of the bidders were former Unocal workers. Many were retirees.

“A lot of people,” she said, “just wanted something with the company name on it.”


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