Las Vegas’ Neon Museum shines, day or night

5 05 2011

There’s so much to do in Las Vegas. The casinos, entertainment, and seemingly unlimited dining options are big draws, but how many folks can say they’ve visited The Boneyard, a collection of historic neon signs in downtown Las Vegas?

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas

A forlorn sign waiting for its rebirth

Neon (which produces a red-orange glow, other colors are produced by other inert gases) was once the primary medium for Las Vegas signage. The 1940s through 1960s saw spectacular growth in the neon sign industry, and particularly those designed by the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO). Many of the storied signs of today, such as the still-standing Vegas Vic in downtown’s Glitter Gulch, or the now-decommissioned Stardust sign on the Strip, were installed during this period.

As Las Vegas continued to grow and signage technology changed, signs were dismantled and left to bake in the desert heat or fall into disrepair at the hands of a new business owner. In 1996, that changed with the founding of the Neon Museum.

The Neon Museum is a non-profit organization devoted to collection, preservation, and exhibition of neon signs for the purpose of educational and cultural enrichment. The museum showcases this very unique art form by restoring the signs to their original state and lighting the night sky with these bold displays. The museum officially opened November 15, 1996 when The Hacienda Horse and Rider was lit at the intersection of N. Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont St.

The collection is showcased in two areas, along Fremont St. from Las Vegas Blvd. to 3rd St., and at the under-development Neon Boneyard Park at 821 N. Las Vegas Blvd., adjacent to the relocated La Concha Motel. A third gallery is along the Las Vegas Boulevard State Scenic Byway, which runs from East Washington Ave. to East Sahara Ave. Each of the collections captures Las Vegas history vividly and splendidly.

Aladdin’s Lamp, Nevada Motel, and Dot’s Flowers are only a few of glowing artworks on display at the Fremont St. gallery, which is open 24 hours daily as a self-guided walking tour. The scenic byway collection includes the Silver Slipper and original Binion’s Horseshoe; these signs are in the medians of the road so are most easily viewed from a distance.

The Neon Boneyard Park is perhaps most interesting even though it is currently under development and the signs are stacked in a parking lot behind chain-link fence. These signs are raw, weather-worn, and lonely with no glow or dazzle. Each has its own story to tell, but the visitor has to imagine it for themselves or perhaps relive an earlier time when they visited a particular casino or sight themselves. Eventually, the signs will be restored to their full working glory and will be displayed in similar fashion to the other installations around town. Plans are underway for the La Concha – a mid-century architectural delight with its own special history – to be the museum’s visitor’s center and main gateway.

Visit the Neon Museum’s website to learn more about the collection and monitor information about the opening of the visitor’s center. To learn more about the history of neon signs in Las Vegas, visit YESCO’s historical timeline and click on “The Golden Age of Neon.” Visit www.byways.org to learn more about the Las Vegas Blvd. State Scenic Byway.

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