The opening of the Neon Museum downtown is one of the coolest things that has happened in Las Vegas in awhile. Walking among these signs, it is easy to let your mind wander to the thrilling early days of the Wild West’s little gaming town-that-could. It all started when the Young Electric Sign Company, which made many of the signs, started donating abandoned ones about 20 years ago, the collection dubbed the “Neon Boneyard.” For years, it was tough to get an appointment to tour the outdoor space where neon went to retire. But now, anyone can go! My first visit was during an exciting evening cocktail party with executive director Danielle Kelly, where the signs were illuminated from below, casting an eerie mood on this once-bright beacons of Sin City hedonism. This infamous “Silver Slipper,” which haunted no other than Howard Hughes, is one of the only refurbished signs at the museum. Surprised? It took $100,000 for the slipper to light up again — and it doesn’t even have any neon, only bulbs!
Looking for a used car? This little guy used to hawk the Ugly Duckling Car Sales, which is still around. For more information, take a tour — Justin Favela leads a group of impressive docents who give loads and loads of insider information on these signs. Justin has a long lineage of family members who have worked in Vegas hotels. He was an art student at UNLV when he fell in love with the Boneyard. Today, he’s done more than 1,000 tours.
More than 100 neon signs going back to the 1930s (neon made its Sin City debut in 1928) rest in the Boneyard. It’s strange how many of them seem to harken back to a more “innocent” time — even though the Mob had so much control back then! Many longtime Vegas locals say they miss the good ol’ days, so those mobsters must have been doing something right.
The “M” of the famous Moulin Rouge, the first integrated casino on the Strip, which opened in 1955. It lasted only a few months, but it is such an important part of our history. In the 1960s, the Rat Pack, which included Sammy Davis, Jr., carried the torch, refusing to perform in places with segregation policies.
It wouldn’t be an ode to Vegas history without a sign advertising quickie weddings! Littler known: quickie divorces, which became famous in Vegas during Clark Gable’s “I don’t” number two. His wife raised the roof at parties and gambling halls around town while biding the time it took (only six weeks!) to claim residency and quickly file for divorce — so she could claim half of his Gone with the Wind advance.
Las Vegas was built as a gambling rest stop for weary travelers on their way to Los Angeles. Genius, right?
Like most of the signs at the museum, these came from nearby Fremont Street, which was the original strip of casinos before what is now the international hot spot Las Vegas Strip. Fremont Street is still a hip spot to hang out, anchored by old-time casinos such as the Golden Nugget and Four Queens.
As I mentioned above, it is very expensive to re-light the retired signs. This one from the La Concha Motel was chosen because the hotel’s clamshell-shaped lobby was donated for the Neon Museum visitors’ center. The architect of the 1960s hot spot, Paul Revere Williams, also designed many Hollywood A-listers’ homes — and was the first black inductee into the American Institute of Architects. To transport the cement masterpiece down the Strip, the building had to be chopped into eight pieces, to a price tag of $1.2 million. Still, the donation itself garnered so much interest that the money was raised for the transport and to get the museum off the ground.
For more information:
The Neon Museum is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
Tours leave every 30 minutes between 10 am and 4 pm and last about 45 minutes.
Advanced reservations are highly recommended.
Tickets cost $18 for adults, and $12 for students, senior citizens and Nevada residents.
For more information, call 702-387-6366
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