Neon and Las Vegas. A perfect fit. Few cities in the world fascinate me more. For many reasons. Some good, some not so. I won’t forget my first visit when I was younger, not yet old enough to indulge in the hedonism for which Sin City gets it reputation but old enough to be intrigued by the larger than life structures of the Strip.
A mock Eiffel Tower. A pretend Venice. The fantasy of traveling the world in one stretch. It all seemed so unreal approaching from a distance. But what of Vegas’ unique history? The vintage Vegas. The old school of the Rat Pack and the original casinos. This place has changed very significantly since 1989. The opening of The Mirage heralded the dawn of the megaresort era, the place we know today. Since then, more of the Strip has been occupied with such opulent properties. Themed resorts became increasingly in. And in the process, more of the classic Vegas joints have fallen by the wayside or given radical refits. There is certainly no shortage of things to do in Las Vegas regardless of what appeals to you!
NOSTALGIA FOR VINTAGE VEGAS
Whilst this has shaped Vegas into the place that first won me over, I cannot help but feel an increasing nostalgia for its olden days. A stroll around Fremont Street downtown spiked my curiosity even more. Here the neon dazzles and many of the casinos here have still stood the test of time. So you can imagine how intrigued I was when I found out that there is a museum dedicated to the neon signs of yesteryear. Setting the tone ideally is its entrance. The curved 1950s space age exterior of the old La Concha Motel took me back to the future. A example of what the museum hopes to achieve. The chance to eventually bring old neon signs back to life with a new usage for the present day.
The staff here are very knowledgeable and their dedication is second to none. One of the museum guides organises a group tour around this beguiling scrapyard. From the outside, it is what it is – a neon boneyard. A giant scrap heap of sings and symbols that once lit up the Vegas night sky but since put to rest. A more recent short time item being this skull’s head from the Treasure Island resort, given the heave-ho in 2003 as the TI underwent a slight revamp.
Many of the old signs have quite a backstory to them. Some of the stories may be true, some an urban legend. Like how the bright twinkle of the rotating Silver Slipper kept Howard Hughes awake at night in his penthouse suite. The Silver Slipper itself may be history but testament to the museums aims it now has been given a new home on Fremont East. Rotating just like in the past.
NEON PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION
Exploring the neon signs of yesteryear fills me with a great sense of speculation too. How excellent it would be to see more returned to former glories somehow. Some may seem a bit too surreal for a revival, like this giant billiards player.
And in fact, if you have an eagle eyed observation like me you may notice an unofficial neon revival trail on Fremont Street, where the spirit of old Vegas thrives most these days.
The old horse rider of the former Hacienda was one of the first donations after that casino’s implosion on New Year’s Eve 1996. Now you can see him next to an Irish pub on Fremont Street. In a little corner nearby are a few other old signs of the Strip that have been restored. Aladdin’s lamp, as well as an old milk advert. It seems quite exciting to think there may be some further vintage additions.
Now, more recently as of 1st February 2018 a new permanent exhibition has been added. “Brilliant!” is the name and it most certainly looks brilliant. An evening show in which many of the old signs are lit up again. I most certainly cannot wait to revisit the Neon Museum and get to view this show too.
I wonder which old signs could be next to return to use in the Vegas area. Old casinos like the Stardust, Riviera and Sahara may see their sings sitting here but imagine if someone wanted to start up a bar or cafe bearing the name and logo of any former establishment? Something to think about and for the future too.
VISITING THE NEON MUSEUM
The Neon Museum is located a few blocks north of Fremont Street downtown, turn left at the entrance to Fremont East and keep going straight on! You should reserve a spot on a tour in advance. You can choose if you want to do an evening tour that combines the “Brilliant!” light show as well. Having visited the Neon Boneyard in the daytime before, I think I know what I want to try next time!