The Neon Museum tells Las Vegas’ story while showcasing signs’ art
By Susan Stapleton
Photography by Robert John Kley
Hair by Dennis Cooper
Makeup by Sarah Barker
Styling by StaciMichelle
Las Vegas has a habit of destroying its history. Former casinos such as the Aladdin, Sands, Dunes, Stardust, Hacienda, El Rancho, Landmark and Desert Inn disappeared from the skyline when dynamite imploded their structures. And the famous Moulin Rouge was destroyed when fire ravaged it.
Now Las Vegas has a new way to take a look back at its history with The Neon Museum, home to more than 150 neon signs that date back to the 1930s. The largest collection of neon lights in the world gives visitors more than just a glimpse of the history of Las Vegas, it also shows how neon grew as an art form in Sin City. “All of these signs have stories to tell,” says Bill Marion, Neon Museum board chair.
Guests start their journey in the museum’s new visitors’ center, the renovated lobby of the former La Concha Motel. Paul Revere Williams designed and built the seashell-shaped mid-century modern lobby in 1961. When it was still operational as a hotel, the building stood on Las Vegas Boulevard South next to the Riviera. And although it was slated for destruction, The Neon Museum saved it from demolition and moved it to its current location in 2006.
But the real attraction of the museum is undoubtedly the Neon Boneyard. Signs from the Moulin Rouge, the Desert Inn, the Flamingo and the Stardust, along with ghosts of the bygone restaurants, hotels and businesses that once thrived in Sin City, are propped along the route behind the visitors’ center. Tours of the space every half hour give guests a slice of the story behind the signs.
“If there’s one piece everyone should see, it’s the Moulin Rouge sign,” Marion says. Betty Willis, a graphic designer who created the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, also designed the elegant script writing for the Moulin Rouge sign and the bedazzled look of the Stardust sign, which also rests in the Boneyard.
Danielle Kelly, the manager of The Neon Museum, says that retaining the intimate experience of the guided tours was a priority at the museum. “Even though we have increased tenfold the number of tours we do a day, we have kept that personal, magical feel that was in the experience previously,” she says.
While Kelly and Marion would prefer the neon to stay lighting the skies—“We want it vibrant and doing its job,” Kelly says—they do have several acquisitions in the works. “Every sign is vetted and seriously considered by our collections committee,” Kelly says. Marion adds that each new sign not only has to have aesthetic value, but must also tell the story behind Las Vegas as well.
“Having fewer signs come to us is not a bad thing,” Marion says. “It means they’re staying where they belong.”
La Concha Visitors Center
9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; boneyard tours every half hour, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., $18, $12 students with valid ID, senior citizens, veterans and Nevada residents, 770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.