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Published July 16th 2013
Shedding some (neon) light on the history of Las Vegas
There is more to Las Vegas than the glitz and glamour of The Strip. In fact, there is quite a rich history that precedes the modern day Vegas. And there is no better way to experience the history of Las Vegas than a visit to the Neon Boneyard at The Neon Museum.
Like the iconic "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" sign, many of the casinos are identified by the imagery and style captured in their signage. The Neon Museum recognises the importance of the signage to the history of Las Vegas and in 1996 began to collect, preserve and restore the neon signs. There are more than 150 neon signs in the collection dating from the 1930s to the present day.
A friendly welcome from the Neon Boneyard
Much of the signage history has links back to the eccentric and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes took up residency in Las Vegas in the 1960's and at one point owned multiple casino properties. The Neon Museum has restored the iconic Silver Slipper sign, which was famously moved by Hughes because he said the twinkling lights kept him up at night (our tour guide also commented that he suspected there were cameras in the shoe watching him). The restored Silver Slipper is a thing of Las Vegas beauty.
Part of the orginal Silver Slipper and Tropicana Casino signs
You are able to see the restored signs at any time in the Urban Gallery. This is a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard in Downtown Las Vegas that stretches from between Sahara Avenue and Washington Avenue. The signs have been erected in the median strip and include the Hacienda Horse and Rider, Binion's Horseshoe, the Bow & Arrow Motel, the Silver Slipper, Society Cleaners, Lucky Cuss Motel, and the Normandie Motel.
Part of the orginal Treasure Island Casino signage
The skull image above is from the Treasure Island Casino before its recent makeover. For a fun look at the size of this structure- look up the Neon Boneyard on Google Earth.
The Neon Boneyard is accessible by tour only. The tour itself starts in the historic La Concha Motel lobby. This building was saved and restored by the Neon Museum and provides a beautiful nod to the mid-century Atomic influences in design. Your guide will then take you around the Neon Boneyard where you can see a variety of signs from different eras of Las Vegas. Each sign has a story and the tour guides are very knowledgeable. Personal photography is allowed on the tour. Commercial photography is not allowed on the standard tour but photo shoots can be booked directly with the Museum.
Part of the Stardust Casino sign
The Boneyard site is fairly compact but the Museum staff have done an excellent job curating the pieces into a very interesting collection. Everything is big in Vegas so it is easy to lose a sense of scale until you stand next to a piece of a neon sign. It is fairly warm year round in Las Vegas so be prepared for the heat in daytime visits, especially in summer. Night time tours are also available.
The Neon Museum is located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North. Free off-street parking is available. Note: the Neon Museum is walking distance from the popular Fremont Street area. Some travel guides suggest saving on cab fares and walking, however I would not recommend walking, especially at night.
Tours can be booked online in advance. Space on each tour is limited and tickets do sell out quickly. For more information or to book a ticket visit The Neon Museum website.
This cool dude features on the Neon Museum souvenir t-shirts