The neon boneyard: where classic Vegas neon signs go to die, or do they? We may have a reputation for everything being flashy and new, but that doesn’t mean we just throw stuff out when we’re finished with them. Unless of course, it’s a one-night stand. More than 120 of Las Vegas’ iconic neon signs are on display for new generations to enjoy at the Neon Museum. It’s rusted, it’s vintage and it reeks of authentic rockabilly badassness.
Here are 10 of our faves:
OK, this isn’t just one sign – it’s a few. There are so many individual letters strewn about in the Neon Museum that it feels a little like your childhood alphabet soup. These letters are from multiple signs from throughout Vegas but they make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon the single most important garage sale of all time. The letters are so rad, the museum has turned photos of them into magnets so you can take home a piece of history. We highly recommend you buy a few as souvenirs because not only are you helping this non-profit establishment preserve national treasures, you can spell really bad words that’ll have you laughing every time you see them.
The Aladdin Lamp
I’m a little teapot…oh wait, that’s not right. It’s a genie lamp. The Aladdin opened in 1966 and like most of us who come to Vegas, ran out of money. But a raven-haired man on a white Arabian horse (literally), came to save the day. Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, bought the hotel in the ’80s. After switching hands on a few more occasions throughout the years, it finally closed for good. Today, Planet Hollywood sits on the property. Kinda makes you wonder what would’ve happened if they would’ve actually rubbed that lamp.
Yeah yeah, this probably isn’t much of a surprise to anyone. And you know why? Because it’s a stunner. The bright, larger-than-life letters represent a booming era in Las Vegas, the atomic age (badump bump). This big beautiful lady dates back to 1958 while the stars behind it date from the 1960s roadside sign. Both were rescued before the Stardust was imploded in 2006. It’s the biggest sign in the collection and pretty much epitomizes exactly what you’d hope a neon boneyard would look like.
The Moulin Rouge
The understated elegance of the Moulin Rouge’s sign belies the hotel’s significance. In the 1950s, segregation (or as I like to call it: one of the armpits of American history) was so prevalent in Vegas the city was called the Mississippi of the West. African Americans couldn’t stay, gamble or attend a show in the hotels on the Strip. Famous performers like Sammy Davis Jr. could perform in the hotels, but couldn’t stay there. When the Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 it became the first integrated hotel in the city. The sign itself was designed by Betty Willis, but you may know her for her more famous piece: the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Willis, one of the few female sign designers, drew each letter freehand because she couldn’t find a font she liked. Nothing like taking matters into your own hands, right?
Steiner’s Cleaners “Happy Shirt”
Surprised to see a dry cleaner sign on this list? You won’t be after you hear the story of it. Steiner’s laundered many of Vegas’ elite entertainers like Elvis and Liberace. Liberace is still considered the King of Bling in our book, especially after learning that Steiner’s removed, cleaned, and then reapplied all the rhinestones on his costumes by hand. There were more than 10,000 individual crystals in a single cape. In a true sign of the times, the happy shirt used to have a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, but he’s since kicked the bad habit. He also was once animated and waved his arms up and down doing a little happy dance because everybody loves clean clothes.
First a pharmacy, then the first two-story casino in Las Vegas with motorized stairs (that’s an escalator for all you scratching your heads), called the Silver Palace. The building was reinvented a few times over the last few decades and became Sassy Sally’s in the 1980s. Located on the northwest corner of Fremont and First streets, you’ll know it today as Mermaid’s casino. We love the kitschy “under the big top” feel with curly letters, round bulbs and the red and gold stripes. Also, we’re pretty sure the two dollar-sign shaped “S” letters in Sassy were paid for with our casino losses.
City Center Motel
Yeah, this is definitely not like the City Center we have now, but it’s still cool for a couple reasons. First, although this can’t technically be proven, it’s suspected that this was yet another sign done by our beloved neon rock star Betty Willis. This sign may not have its own parking lot like its more famous relative, the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, but it’s no shrinking violet either. Second, you can still see the brush strokes from the sign’s painter and the glass tubing for the letters was bent by hand. It’s got a cool SoCal kind of vibe with a funky cityscape silhouette perched on the top.
When you look up “flamboyant” in the dictionary, the definition is usually accompanied by a photo of the one and only, Liberace. Between the 1950s and 1970s, he was the highest-paid entertainer on the planet, and with money comes extravagance. As one of the most famous Las Vegas entertainers of all time, he built a lavish life in Sin City based on glamour and excess. Basically, he fit right in. It’s only fitting that once the Liberace Museum shut down, the Neon Museum got their sign featuring his hand-written autograph immortalized in all its neon glory. This is also one of the Neon Museum’s full restored signs. At night, it glows hot pink.
This sign kind of makes us want to sing “Araaabiaaan Niiiights,” but this isn’t a Disney movie. In its heyday, the Sahara was a sexy adult playground – a place to see and be seen. When the Moroccan-themed hotel opened in 1952, there were 1,720 rooms on 20 acres of land. It shot to stardom when famed Hollywood playboys, the Rat Pack began frequenting the place. The hotel also hosted rock demigods, the Beatles, and Hollywood elite like Grace Kelly and Carey Grant. The sign’s camels and font were carefully chosen to express the beauty, exoticism and mystery of far-off lands.
The Neon Museum
It doesn’t have to be old to be appreciated. The Neon Boneyard Park sign is an appropriately vintage homage to some of our favorite pieces in the museum. The “N” is from the Golden Nugget font, the “E” from Caesars, an “O” from Binion’s, and the Desert Inn “N” are aligned with the stars from the Stardust and the starburst from the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The neon letters and stars are mounted on a grid like the Sands Hotel sign, which lives on forever in a 1960 publicity still for the movie “Ocean’s 11.”
Those are some of our favorite Vegas neon signs. Share your favorites in the comments below. Check out more Las Vegas attractions.