In a town that seems almost perpetually under construction, bright neon signs that were once a fixture of the Las Vegas Strip can disappear in a flash — or at least the time it takes to implode an old casino to make way for a new attraction.
The Neon Museum, a Las Vegas nonprofit organization, was created to preserve retired neon signage as artifacts that illustrate the history of the city, its people and sign design. Through a combination of private, public and corporate funding, the Neon Museum maintains a boneyard of old neon signs that have yet to be restored. Some are currently on display at a special exhibit at the Nevada State Museum. As part of its efforts, the organization provides educational programming, such as tours, exhibits and research assistance. An ongoing "living museum" project labors to ensure signs are donated to the museum as they are removed.
Although the concept for the museum existed for more than 20 years, Executive Director Sandra L. Harris says the museum wasn’t officially born until 1996, when the Hacienda Horse and Rider, the first of 11 neon signs, was restored to its brightly lit glory and displayed in downtown Las Vegas. Today, the historic signs, dating as far back as 1940, can be viewed outdoors along Fremont Street and neighboring avenues. Each sign includes a plaque describing the sign’s history.
Harris says the organization hopes to raise enough funds to open the Neon Museum boneyard to the public for regular viewing hours (currently it’s open only by appointment) and, someday, a permanent indoor museum space.
The images on these pages showcase a few restored neon signs on display on Fremont Street. Harris says these illustrate various types of local businesses and examples of sign design. Each neon sign was restored through private donations. To see some of these signs before they were refurbished, check out ST‘s June 1996 issue, page 136.
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