Everyone knows about the casinos that have made Las Vegas famous. These casinos blast their presence in the form of neon signs, the larger and the more impressive, the better. With new development projects and expansions down the Strip, older casinos are regularly torn down to make place for newer and grander establishments. Such was the fate of once iconic casinos like “The Sands”, “Aladdin” and “The Sahara” and others. These famous places have made room for names like “The Venetian”, “Planet Hollywood” and “SLS Las Vegas” respectively. Indeed, as these new casinos were built, they slowly but surely replaced the glory days of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Liberace, making room for a new generation of entertainers.
But have you ever wondered what happened to those iconic neon signs that used to light up the entrances of these old casinos? Their historic value is significant, as they tell a story of a Las Vegas that is no more. A legacy of what once was, invoking nostalgic emotions in those that remember those names. Artistically and of course, technologically, they also have significance, as they complete the picture of, what could be considered, “the Las Vegas culture”.
Thankfully, these old neon signs are not lost, many of them find their way to The Neon Museum, located on Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonanza. Many of the signs are lovingly restored and can light up at night. The museum is now a partnership between the Allied Arts Council of Southern Nevada and the City of Las Vegas and is an independent non-profit.
The museum itself started as a “boneyard” of signs stored by the manufacturer and designer of the original electric signs, the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO). While the core of the collection is from the old YESCO Boneyard, private donations and loans have expanded the collection to the current size. Pieces in the boneyard include signage from the Moulin Rouge Hotel, the Stardust, Desert Inn and Caesars Palace as well as many others. The museum also houses fiberglass sculptures including a giant skull from the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino among others.
Because of the delicate nature of these old neon signs, tours are are conducted by guides only. You cannot just enter the museum and go for a walk, you must sign up for a tour that has a specific starting time. A little disconcerting perhaps, but totally understandable considering the fragility of these signs. Besides, you get a highly informative narration during the tour with lots of interesting background information of the signs on display.
It is easy to visit Las Vegas and never get to visit this museum, there are too many other activities in this place of light and blazing neon. But if you ever want to see what happens to these signs when they outlive their role, the Neon Museum is a fascinating place to visit.