I bet ya can’t think of Las Vegas without imagining a neon sign of some sort. Other than being beautifully kitschy pieces of art, I never really gave much thought as to why Vegas is covered in neon until my sister and I joined a guided walking tour through the Neon Boneyard at the Neon Museum.
You Can Stare at the Light (Bulbs)
For more than 15 years the Neon Boneyard has been collecting retired hotel and casino signs, more than 150 dating back to the 1930s, yet the museum is relatively new, having opened in Fall 2012. The museum’s visitor center and meeting point for the tour is the former La Concha Motel lobby which opened in 1961 and is considered to be one of the best examples of Googie architecture. The motel was designed by architect Paul R. Williams and closed in 2003. It’s nice to see the building has been repurposed rather than destroyed, as seems to be the trend with older buildings in Las Vegas.
This hour-long outdoor amble was as vibrant and colorful as the Las Vegas Strip at night. Just expecting a tour with a guide pointing out old signs and saying where they came from, this was an intriguing walk down Las Vegas history lane. Revealed were the popularity of neon signs, why they’re over the top, stories of some of the casinos, background about some of the sign designers and lots of interesting history.
Oh, the Nostalgia
I felt a little old while walking among signs that were once familiar to me back in the 1990s. In my mind, the 90s aren’t that long ago yet hotel signs from places as the Stardust and Aladdin while a big pirate head from Treasure Island was smack dab in the middle of the yard. I remember when that theme was so fresh and innovative, now it’s retired for others to ogle up close.
There’s also a bit of trivia thrown into the tour. Did you know the type of gas in the glass tube determines the color? Argon gas results in blue light while neon yields red. Powering a neon sign sucks a lot of energy so there was a movement to LED, however it may save energy, LED lights don’t emit the same vibrancy as neon.
The Neon Museum’s collection has three entities: the Neon Boneyard, the Downtown Gallery and the Las Vegas Signs project. Tours of the Boneyard are during the day which means you’re not looking at “live” neon. Head to Fremont Street at night to view the electrified Downtown Gallery with pieces sprinkled around the Fremont Street Experience.
Although we took a cab from the Bellagio to the Neon Museum, my sister and I opted to walk back to the hotel following the tour, about a six-mile walk. This was before we figured out what the Deuce was. (A very slow bus that runs 24 hours a day but for $7 it can get you from one end of Las Vegas Boulevard to another without walking.) We admired the neon signs along Las Vegas Boulevard like fine pieces of art, just as they should be appreciated.
Nuts & Bolts
The museum is quirky, fun and informative. Advance reservations are recommended and remember to wear closed-toed shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen and maybe a hat – the tour is outdoors. If you’re not heat tolerant, book the earliest tour possible. Visit my Flickr account for additional images of the museum.
770 Las Vegas Blvd. N
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Tour Cost: $18 per person, discounts may apply for residents and others.