When I anticipated exploring the Neon Boneyard, the main attraction at the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. North) in Las Vegas, I imagined us wandering through the cemetery of signage on our own. That, however, is not the case.
A trip to the Neon Museum is a guided, hour-long tour through the Neon Boneyard, full of Vegas legend, mobster anecdotes, and gritty Americana. The knowledgable Mitch was our appointed tour guide, and the tour begins standing outside of the Neon Museum’s building, formerly La Concha Motel.
The Neon Museum is not located where the motel once was. Rather, the motel was sawed into eight pieces, relocated, and reassembled on site. The La Concha is an example of Googie architecture, designed by Paul Revere Williams, one of America’s first African American architects. The Museum itself, founded in 1996, is today a nonprofit dedicated to preserving pieces of a historic Vegas. It does so via the Neon Boneyard, but also The Downtown Gallery and the Las Vegas Signs Project. The latter are fully restored signs that light up Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont Street, also part of the National Scenic Byways Project.
Much of the Boneyard was donated by Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) for preservation. Signs inside the Boneyard include Lido de Paris, Vegas’ first dance revue, a row of old motel signs (our favorite, duh!), the old skull from Treasure Island prior to rebranding, and a myriad of casino remnants, each holding its own bevy of stories. Some signs draw tales of infamous mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Benny Binion. “If you disagreed with Binion,” Mitch casually tells us, “your car blew up.”
One interesting piece of history was the story of the Moulin Rouge Hotel, whose sign rests near the beginning of the Boneyard. The Moulin Rouge, opened in 1955, was the first integrated casino on a then-segregated Strip. Though the Moulin Rouge had a very short life, declaring for bankruptcy shortly after it opened (due to some intimidation and conspiracy, our guide suggested), it had a lasting impact. In 1960, under threat of a civil rights march, Governor Grant Sawyer, NAACP President Dr. James McMillan, hotel owners, local politicians, and local black leaders held a meeting in the closed casino. The meeting was moderated by Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun. The end result of the meeting was the integration of the Las Vegas Strip. The sign is a popular lovers’ photo op, as the middle appears to read, “in love.”
The hour-tour is well worth the history lesson. Questions are encouraged, as well as photos for personal use of you standing in front of your favorite sign. LIKE THIS:
Photos by Mary Sjaarda.