Vegas is a city known for its voracious nightlife and neon lights — but when the lights dim on aging Vegas hot spots, what happens to the iconic signs that once illuminated the dessert sky?
I first came upon The Neon Boneyard a few years back while working on one of the many Hollywood films that use Vegas as a backdrop. The three acres of land at 777 Las Vegas Boulevard is a graveyard of signage, where the Ghosts of Vegas Past have literally been put to rest. Entering the gates of the Boneyard, you’re surrounded by more than 150 neon signs and more than sixty years of Vegas history.
As a woman with an avid shoe collection, I was immediately drawn to the shine of the Silver Slipper, a giant shoe from the original Vegas casino of the same name. Weighing more than two tons, it towered fifteen feet above me, glistening in the Nevada sun and was neighbored by a collection that includes signs from early casinos like the Golden Nugget and Stardust to neon signs from former wedding chapels, fast food joints and liquor stores.
Reclaim, Restore, Remember
The graveyard signage covers a time span from before the debut of Frank Sinatra at the Desert Inn to present day. Most of the signs were donated by the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO), the same company responsible for constructing them.
Before the Neon Boneyard was opened, many of these historical treasures were left to rot in junkyards or dropped on the property of YESCO. Locals and visitors began stopping by to see these icons up close and express concern for their proper disposal. The fear that these signs were hazardously decaying — taking with them a rich history of early Vegas — prompted the start of the Neon Museum Board of Trustees led by Nancy Deanor.
The Board currently operates as a non-profit organization and has raised funds to keep these signs out of landfills and in the Neon Boneyard. The money is used for safe transport and restoration to working condition. The Boneyard is now a part of the Neon Museum (www.neonmusum.org), a popular tourist attraction on historic Fremont Street in downtown Vegas. There you can see the first ten restored signs (including Aladdin’s lamp) lit up every night as they once were. You can visit the graveyard by reservation with a fifteen-dollar donation to their website.
The city recently donated more than four million dollars to the completion of a formal Neon Park, which should open in 2009 according to the International Sign Association. “Like jazz is to New Orleans, neon is to Las Vegas”, expressed Mayor Goodman. This plan couldn’t come at a better time since current casinos are replacing neon signs with other energy-saving lighting options and big-screen technology.
It’s nice to know that a city whose bright lights lure tourists in is opting for more environmentally friendly options. I can’t help but smile when I think that a city known for tearing down the old to construct the new, will have a place where its history still shines as brightly as the Silver Slipper above me.
For more information on the Neon Boneyard, click here.