Let me set up the scene for you.
In the desert (not the song, the real desert), the temperature had reached 110 degrees (43 Celsius). The heat caused bloody noses, tomato-like faces and about seven “I am about to pass out” moments.
In a case like that, what would you do?
- a) Stay on your hotel room with the air conditioning on high
- b) Shop and eat in a place where the temperature is set up to polar conditions
- c) Book an outdoors tour
Options a and b sound fantastic! But me being me, you know how things took a shocking turn.
My sister and brother in law decided to vacation in Las Vegas during the worst possible season: summer. I agreed to meet them for at least two days. Ahh, I thought it was not going to be that bad.
Well, the weather was not fun, and really people, do not go to Vegas in summer, but I wanted to be able to say I experience something new (something on the cultural side, do not start getting weird thoughts). We had a free morning and were headed to Downtown when I popped into the Neon Museum website and, BAM!, I snatched the last two tickets for the day (less than two hours before the tour).
Going to the museum ended up being an excellent idea. This is a place for all those who want to see a different side of Las Vegas, a side full of creativity and vision. It is a refreshing option especially when The Strip is getting rowdier and rowdier by the minute
The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum features about 150 signs from defunct casinos and businesses. All the displays are located outdoors over 6 acres.
The museum exists, in part, thanks to the Young Electric Sign Company, the business selected to create the signs for the casinos that started to operate in the early 30s, after Nevada legalized gambling.
Since the company leased the signs, it was able to place them on its boneyard after mayor failures or when they were done for good. The company donated part of its collection to the museum. Growth has been sustained through private donations and grants.
This “new” boneyard can be visited on a guided tour. Visitors are not allowed to roam on their own since shattered glass and rusty corners are everywhere. Do not worry if you have an aversion to tours. The guides in here are very knowledgeable and understand a lot of people want to go on a photo safari.
Related: Street Art in Dallas
The first cool feature about this museum is the visitor’s center. It is located in what used to be the lobby of La Concha Motel, one of the largest properties on The Strip (when it opened) and host of celebrities such as Ronald Reagan and Muhammad Ali (it was in front of the Circus Circus).
The motel was demolished to build a bigger property but the lobby stood. It was donated to the Neon Museum and the money to divide and reassemble was donated by the Nevada Convention and Visitors Authority and raised from the community.
The tour explores several phases of the history of Las Vegas. Everything starts with the time when the first casinos started to make business on what is nowadays Downtown. You can see signs from The Moulin Rouge, Binions and Golden Nugget (the last two are still up and running but have more modern signs).
The guide gave us a lot of juicy details about family feuds and mafia controlled hotels and resorts.
Those early businessmen were marketing geniuses. They came with tons of ideas to turn an inhospitable, dusty place into an exciting destination. That is one of the reasons they started to use flashy neon signs. They made sure tons of red and yellow were used since studies show those colors loosen up people and make them take more risks. That technique is still used. Think about the logos of McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC and Wendy’s.
Also, they came up with the idea of placing dollar signs everywhere and adding a “ding, ding, ding” sound to slot machines.
Non-gambling establishments started to cater to gambling patrons by offering freebies such aspirin (see below).
Other started to offer the latest and greatest technological features (Color TV!).
Suddenly, you had all sorts of businesses using neon, wild colors and enticing offers.
In addition, Nevada reduced the residency requirements for divorce (getting a divorce here was easier than in other parts) and established super simple requirements for marriage (no blood test, for example).
Business used those laws to their advantage and started to capitalize on those demographics. We saw the baby pink and mermaid shaped signs used on wedding chapels. The wedding frenzy has stayed in town. You can take advantage of drive-thru marriages or have a ceremony hosted by Elvis.
It was interesting to see signs and sculptures from the time resorts started to cater to families. The giant skull that was once part of Treasure Island is on display. By the way, it was decided the kiddie market was not lucrative enough. Most hotels scratched that from their offerings.
You do not have to be that old to realized how much Vegas has changed in the past ten years. The place has nothing to do with how it was when I moved to California 14 years ago.
That is why the tour took a bit of a personal turn when I saw the signs of buildings that were standing when I started to visit the city. The huge sign of the Stardust is in seven pieces throughout the property. I remember the place very well.
The other nostalgic part came when I saw the sign of the Sahara. I stayed there with my husband months before it closed. The SLS Resort was built in its location. Rumor has it that the SLS may rebrand as a modern version of the Sahara since it is not doing well.
The tour ended after we saw the signs for La Concha Motel, the Caesar’s Palace and The Ugly Duckling Used Car Sales (the cutest of them all). Oh, and we saw Aladdin’s Lamp and the sign used for the Liberace show.
I couldn’t leave without taking photos of isolated letter.
Oh wow, that was quite a tour! We enjoyed every bit of it and even forgot about the heat (not really but it was worth getting beaten by the sun). I must reiterate this is an outstanding option for those who want to escape (or are not interested) the craziness of The Strip. I really hope you can check out this place one day.
- You should reserve your spot on a tour with anticipation. The Neon Museum tends to sell out every single day
- If you are lucky (like me), you may be able to snatch a ticket at the last moment. Check out the website for more details
- The tour lasts one hour
- Night tours are available too (the working signs are turned on)
- When it is hot, the museum provides umbrellas for use. Water fountains and water for sell are available on site
- Renovated neon signs have been places on North Las Vegas Boulevard (close to the museum). More signs can be found on the Freemont area
Have you visited or would like to visit the Neon Museum?
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