Neon Museum in Vegas

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By Simon J. Lau

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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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Mission Street nightlife

To view our full gallery or to purchase prints, please visit our album here.
By Simon J. Lau

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One thing that surprised me upon returning to San Francisco from my stint in New York was just how far the Mission District had developed since I left. When I first moved to San Francisco in 2007, few people if any proposed meeting in the Mission besides an occasional (daytime) burrito run. The Mission District was still a very rough neighborhood and lacked a vibrant nightlife. Fast-forward a few years and by my return in 2012 the neighborhood had become a weekend and nightlife destination. With countless bars, lounges, and restaurants, people from all walks of life and all corners of San Francisco converged here each day and each night.

Looking back, it’s not surprising to see how the Mission District developed into a hip neighborhood. As our guest writer, Mariela, discussed in her article, Reimagining My Grandmother’s Mission District, “the Mission was an affordable alternative to the more established neighborhoods with quick access to Financial District and highway access to the Peninsula (not to mention a warm microclimate to boot).” Given these attractive characteristics, it was only a matter of time before the Mission District’s broad appeal attracted a new and growing fan base. This led to investments into new development and the renovation of historic spaces.

Despite the obvious issues associated with gentrification, the Mission District has become much more accessible to many more people in and around San Francisco and the larger Bay Area. As a local history junkie, one of my personal favorites includes the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema located in the former Idle Hour Theater (now the New Mission Theater). It’s an arthouse cinema that features many independent films. Similar to the Sundance Kabuki in Japantown, there is a bar here and it serves food and drinks during showings. It’s a fun space and in reverence to its history, it has been nicely renovated to preserve many of the building’s historic features.




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