On October 27, Las Vegas will see an opening of a different stripe as the Neon Museum buzzes back to life. The museum, a tribute to the signage of the strip and Sin City's glitzy past, has been open since 1996, but its move into the La Concha Motel marks its debut as a formidable destination in a town full of shiny distractions.
Unlike many traditional museums, most of the Neon Museum's exhibits are so large they have to be kept outdoors in an area known as the Neon Boneyard, which boasts an astounding array of enticing signs from bygone eras. The museum has recently acquire new pieces including signs from the Sahara, Fitzgerald's and the Frontier. There is also a two-acre outdoor exhibition space.
Though the museum has been an attraction for some time, the new signage and fresh look will likely make this a Vegas staple for decades to come, the perfect activity for hungover gamblers looking to see something more inspiring than acres of carpets and slot machines.
Bill Marion, Chairman of the Neon Museum's board of directors, told HuffPost Travel about the museum's inspiration and direction.
HuffPost Travel: Your museum seems designed to remind travelers that Vegas does -- drinking and gambling aside -- have a fascinating history. What drew you to the town?
Bill Marion: I was born in Las Vegas, but that being said, I have also lived in Boston and Washington, DC. I came back, however, not just because my roots are here, but because Las Vegas is a truly fascinating place to live. The nearby mountains and canyons are a nature lover’s paradise, and the city itself has energy, excitement, and opportunity that is unlike any other place in the country, and probably the world for that matter.
Whenever I land at the airport, I try to think about what this place must look like to a first-time visitor –- it’s got to be beyond belief.
HPT: A lot of travelers head to Vegas to get weird, what sort of audience do you think your museum will attract?
BM: I think our audience will be an eclectic one: those who are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary experience, those who want to reminisce about the old days, artists, architects and photographers and those who have heard that this is a really cool place and want to check it out.
HPT: Why did you want to preserve Las Vegas's old signage? Were you more interested in the beauty of the objects or their historical significance?
BM: You’ve hit on two very significant reasons to preserve the signs. The Neon Museum is an art museum and the collection reflects the changes in the evolution of neon craftsmanship over several decades. The very best neon designers worked in Las Vegas because that is where the work was, and they were constantly pushed to push the limits of neon design. But the museum is also a history museum. In Las Vegas, we have reinvented the city several times, blowing up the old buildings and replacing them with hotels that are bigger, more contemporary and more modern. The signs in the museum are the only remaining remnants of truly historic properties with stories that long to be told and deserve to be remembered. These signs remind us of where we’ve been and, hopefully, help us think about where we’re going.
HPT: Is there a particular period or style of design that you prefer?
BM: I think the period of the seventies –- signs were massive, colorful, bold and imaginative. They weren’t designed for realism; in fact, it may have been the opposite –- they were designed to enchant and to lure. They were vibrant and luminescent, like neon impressionism.
HPT: Are there any relics in the Neon Boneyard that you find particularly compelling?
BM: I wouldn’t call them relics. Maybe artifacts is more appropriate because these signs are still living texts. Remember, signs were meant to communicate, and even though these signs are not in active use anymore (some might say retired), they are still communicating and still telling stories.
Some of my favorites: The Green Shack -– the oldest and one of the smallest signs, which identified a small roadhouse that was the last place out of town heading toward Hoover Dam, and the first place coming back; The Silver Slipper, a dance hall and casino on the Strip where my family used to go to eat because it had a marvelous buffet; The Moulin Rouge –- the first integrated resort in Las Vegas –- not built on the Strip, but built in what was the segregated community. It not only has historic significance, but is a beautiful work of art in its own right, designed by Betty Willis, the designer of the iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign; Sassy Sally’s –- a magnificent sign that incorporates so many of the design elements that originated in Las Vegas neon sign architecture.
All photos courtesy of The Neon Museum.