Neon Museum in Vegas

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By Simon J. Lau


Contrary to popular opinion, the crown jewel of Las Vegas is not the modern skyline that rises over the Strip, but rather the history behind what made Las Vegas what it is today. Some of that history can be rediscovered at a little known place called the Neon Museum. The Neon Museum features signs from Las Vegas’ rich entertainment history. It is located north of Fremont Street off of Las Vegas Boulevard. Within its small 2 acre compound, the Neon Museum showcases historical signage from over 200 casinos, hotels, and small businesses. Many signs have been donated and some have even been fully restored, creating a unique environment in which to experience a piece of Las Vegas’ historic past.

The visitor’s center that greets guests to the Neon Museum is itself a feature of the collection. This center was the former lobby of the La Concha Motel. The La Concha was located off of Las Vegas Boulevard between Riviera Boulevard and Convention Center Drive, near the current Peppermill Fireside Lounge, and opened in 1961. It was designed by Paul Williams, one of the first prominent African American architects in America (Williams, as part of a larger team, is also credited with designing the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport). La Concha later closed in 2004. At that point the Doumani family, owners of the La Concha Motel, donated the lobby and the exterior neon signs to the Neon Museum. These pieces were moved to their current location, and the lobby opened to the public in 2012.

Although this was my first trip to the Neon Museum, this was not my first time seeing many of these signs. Having grown up in California, Vegas has always been a destination for a weekend getaway. The most famous sign here may arguably be the Stardust. However, the sign that stood out to me was the Caesars Palace sign. I vividly recall it from an early trip to Vegas I took with my family. It was dark blue and slipped right into the triangular slot above the hotel. It was far from striking (in fact, it wasn’t even worth including in this series), but I remember Caesars being the premier hotel at the time and somehow that sign triggered my own memories of family vacations. One fun fact I learned here was that Jay Sarno, the creator and casino owner of Caesars, chose the plural (Caesars as opposed to Caesar) because he wanted every guest to “feel like Caesar.”

Other notable signs include the Sahara, Golden Nugget, and Moulin Rouge, among others. It should go without saying, but the Neon Museum is absolutely worth a visit. The entrance fee includes a guided tour and many photo opportunities. On this first trip, I spent all of my time photographing the artwork. However, it merits a second visit to learn more about the history behind each piece.


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