Neon Museum Lights Up History

Billing itself as “the world’s largest collection of neon signage,” the outdoor Neon Museum in Las Vegas proclaims itself to be “Part history. Part art. Completelyawesome.”

Its own sign pays homage to Las Vegas: The first “N” is from the Golden Nugget font, the “E” from Caesar’s, the “O” from Binion’s and the final “N” is from the Desert Inn.

The letters share the stage with the stars from the Stardust and the starburst from the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

Enter the visitor’s center and you’ll find yourself in what used to be the La Concha Motel lobby, a shell-like building designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects. The mosaic lobby sign is original to the motel and has been restored.

Step out into the museum’s Boneyard for a guided tour and you’re surrounded by a mish-mash of signage.

A sign for a dry cleaner leans up against an arrow pointing the way to wedding information. The sign for the Liberace Museum is comprised of his distinctive scrawl, which turns hot pink when lit.

Elsewhere stands a hodgepodge of signs for La Concha Motel, the Silver Slipper and the Stardust. Standing guard is the baby duck from Ugly Duckling Car Sales, its body made of neon tubing. A short stroll away, stands the 30,000-bulb Benny Binion’s Horseshoe sign.

No doubt the most familiar will be a version of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, designed by Betty Jane Willis. (The original sign is almost nine miles away, on the southern end of the Strip.)

Only seven of the museum’s assemblage of some 200 signs have been restored, although several more, including signs from the Riviera and the Sahara, still work. The museum doesn’t expect to restore all the signs, only to keep them from deteriorating further.

Our tour guide explained how the signs were made and how they fit into Las Vegas history.

Because each glass tube has to be made by hand, neon signs are expensive and difficult to repair, she pointed out. For the most part, they have been replaced with LEDs.

The Boneyard also offers a night tour, when the lights are turned on. And a gift shop replete with photos from a bygone Las Vegas, as well as retro — and kitschy — souvenirs.