Las Vegas is world-famous for its vivid, glittering lights. After my visit to downtown’s Neon Museum this week, I have a deeper appreciation of the old-school signage that first lit up the town.
New visitors center makes experience more convenient
Up until last week, there really wasn’t an easy way to drop by and check out the museum’s boneyard of vintage Vegas signs. Not only did you have to call weeks in advance to schedule a visit, but there wasn’t an indoor area where you could relax before and after your tour. You met your guide in the desert. Also, if you were here for the weekend and wanted to drop by for any openings, you couldn’t.
Now, not only are there tour times available every half hour (Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) but you have the luxury of signing up for a tour on the spot. Located inside the former La Concha motel lobby (pictured right), you can enjoy views through its floor-to-ceiling windows.
If you have time to spare, the visitors center offers two interactive stations powered by motion sensors. With a wave of a hand, you can listen to snippets of Vegas history through the years. Categories include ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and Beyond, Moulin Rouge, Stardust, La Concha motel and famous Vegas architects and designers.
Tour rich in history
The Neon Museum’s boneyard features more than 150 restored signs in a 2.5-acre outdoor exhibition space. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. But our tour guide Sophie Duncan immediately put the group at ease and shared tons of history on these old, iconic signs. One of the facts I learned was that the museum didn’t pay a single penny for these signs.
“Nothing in the museum is purchased — everything has been donated,” said Duncan. “We’re really lucky to have these generous people that donate to our collection.”
While the majority of the signs are from YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company), the museum also relied on casino owners to help preserve history.
The tour is about 45 minutes long, so make sure you bring bottled water. And depending on the time of year, make sure to dress appropriately since the entire walk-through is outdoors.
As you stop in front of the old Flamingo sign, you’ll learn a little bit of history about mobster Bugsy Siegel, one of the owners of the property. Bugsy was shot and killed before he had a chance to see the outcome of the hotel. New management took over in 1947 and the Flamingo became the first resort to change the face of Las Vegas.
You’ll also see the original Stardust sign (which spans 217 feet!), the Sahara sign (a property that closed just last year), Caesars Palace and the sign from the Desert Inn hotel, owned by world-famous businessman, Howard Hughes. See the massive skull from Treasure Island, which was so big that it needed to be built in the parking lot.
If you want to take a piece of the experience with you, T-shirts and other merchandise are available for purchase inside the visitors center.
This is a year of firsts for the popular attraction: In addition to the opening of the visitors center, the Neon Museum will start hosting tours at night. We hear it’s going to be an illuminating experience.