"Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs."
Bright Lights, Big City.
Las Vegas is not a town known for preservation when it comes to casinos and hotels. Quite the opposite in fact, as the utter destruction of hotels is often just another attraction for a city that likes to do bigger and more spectacular things with each passing generation.
One thing, however, that Las Vegas IS known for is neon - but this is coming to an end. The era of neon lights lining the Las Vegas Strip, each sign a brilliant calling card for the hotel and casino vying for both your attention and business, is over, with electronic signage now all the rage. A drive down the Strip exposes the visitor to a fully-animated high-definition glow, as if flat-screen tbs had suddenly and efficiently taken over the road. And, in fact, they have.
In a land where the past is forgotten and sometimes imploded, you would think that a dying art form such as neon signage would soon be banished to the dustbins of history.
Somethings, however, do manage to be kept and -- given the proper time, setting and money -- displayed as a historic record of a city dedicated to constant renewal.
In 1996 the Neon Museum -- or at least an organization dedicated to creating one -- was formed. The began collecting, as time and money would allow, as many examples of Las Vegas neon signage as they could store. Now, nearly two decades later, the collection is on display at the Neon Museum "Boneyard", a display and exhibit a mile or so north of downtown, on the eastern side of Las Vegas Boulevard.
When we first arrived I was a bit concerned that we would be subjected to a deliberately slow and boring presentation. The tour is an hour long, and looking out at the grounds I could not conceive that a true tour would require anything more than half that time. I love neon, but it simply doesn't look that big. Looks can be deceiving however, and the tour is indeed an hour long -- and fascinating.
Our tour volunteer guided us along, stopping every few steps to describe the progression of signage from the early years until today. He was knowledgeable and kept the tour group engaged the entire time.
(Well, except for five members of our little band who were apparently in their second or third or perhaps fortieth hour of partying -- they lost interest quickly and, despite the very clearly stated rules at the beginning of the tour, began staggering off to find something else to do. Our guide quickly summoned them an "escort" to take them back to the front and presumably back onto their inebriated trail.)
Along the way we learned a great deal more about the history of Las Vegas, as well as the various hotels who are represented in the Boneyard. Among my favorite installations were the letters from the Stardust's famous "glitter" sign, the Tropicana's lettering and a remnant from Caesars Palace. But they are just several examples from a fascinating collection.
The Museum was an engaging and educational visit, and highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the history of Las Vegas and the signage for which is it justifiably famous.
(BTW -- Keep your eyes open for letters which may spell out things. I was amused when I was reviewing my shots to find Ace and Sean -- presumably two employees or volunteers -- had arranged for their names to be part of the exhibit. --> )
Plan for a couple of hours for the visit, including drive time from your hotel. Book in advance on their website -- several people who "just showed up" were turned away in the small giftshop and reception area. It's a worthwhile stop and it would be too bad to miss out simply because you didn't schedule ahead. Also check the website for the frequent special exhibits and events which are regularly scheduled.
Las Vegas' Neon Boneyard...a wonderful and pleasantly unexpected highlight of our last trip.
Check it out.
THE LAS VEGAS NEON BONEYARD
- The Thumbnail Traveler
- Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.