30 Sep

The True History of Vegas Lies in “The Boneyard”

Las Vegas Boneyard Museum: The final vestiges of a bygone era.

Las Vegas Boneyard Museum: The final vestiges of a bygone era.

The Neon Museum, aka “The Boneyard,” is a non-profit organization whose mission is to collect, preserve, study and exhibit iconic Las Vegas signs “for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment.” Perhaps more than any other venue in the city, this is where the true history of the “Entertainment Capital of the World” can be seen.

Las Vegas Boneyard – Lighting up the Desert

Vegas Vic - Famous Neon Signs of Las Vegas

The town’s very first “blazing electric light display” was added to the façade of the downtown Boulder Club in 1934, three years after gambling was legalized in Nevada. The marquee was designed by the Young Electric Sign Company, or YESCO, founded by English immigrant Thomas Young, who had adopted the Mormon faith and set up a sign-making shop in Ogden, Utah around 1920.

Twenty-five years later, Young established a branch office in Las Vegas and set about bringing French-invented “neon” lighting to Fremont Street. His creations included the first electric signage on the Strip at the El Rancho Resort as well as “Vegas Vic,” a 75-foot-high welcome sign commissioned by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce to symbolize the city’s “friendly frontier hospitality.” By 1985, YESCO would be responsible for roughly three-quarters of all the glowing lights seen in Las Vegas.

But as the desert oasis grew, continual renovation caused many of its original properties to be bulldozed into history. Soon, all that would remain of once-famous landmarks like the Hotel Apache, the Northern Club and the Hotel Sal Sagev would be their old signs, many of them piled in heaps within a padlocked junkyard located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North.

Renewed Reverence for the Past

Fortunately, there was civic support for preserving, restoring and exhibiting the city’s singular signage, aided by funding from the Nevada Arts Council and The Caesars Foundation; a private entity financed by Caesars Entertainment’s properties. The Neon Museum was established as a 501(c)3 organization in 1996 and its management gradually set about turning the two-acre dumping ground into an outdoor exhibition space referred to affectionately as the “Boneyard.” The facility opened to the public in 2012, featuring more than 150 signs, seven of which have been restored, plus a visitors’ center housed inside the lobby of the former La Concha Motel (circa 1961).

Neon Museum Boneyard 770 North Las Vegas Blvd

There’s also the Neon Boneyard North Gallery housing more rescued signs, which is available for weddings, special events, photo shoots and educational programs. Hour-long docent-guided tours are offered daily. Tickets are at $18 for adults, $12 for seniors, military personnel, veterans, students and Nevada residents, and $30 for a “combo” that includes a day tour of the Mob Museum on Stewart Avenue at 3rd Street. Children six years old and under are welcome free of charge.

For those who prefer a free sample of the Boneyard’s treasures, nine restored signs can be viewed as public art along the streets of downtown Las Vegas and visited on a self-guided tour twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This “street gallery” includes the illuminated signs of the Lucky Cuss Motel, the Bow & Arrow Motel, The Silver Slipper, Society Cleaners, Binion’s Horseshoe, the Normandie Motel, the Hacienda Hotel horse and rider, the Landmark and 5th Street Liquors—vintage Vegas at its best.

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