The glow from Las Vegas got a little bit brighter when the Neon Museum (neonmuseum.org) flipped its switch this fall. The new museum exhibits the largest collection of neon signs in the world, with more than 150 examples dating from the 1930s, when the rise in popularity of neon advertising met the legalization of gambling. Included are icons from the Desert Inn, Flamingo, and Stardust (with its whopping 11,000 lamps and 1.2 miles of neon tubing).
After collecting and restoring the signs over the past 15 years, the museum has now made them accessible to the public in a two-acre area called the Neon Boneyard, housed in the former lobby of the midcentury modern La Concha Motel. The lobby of the hotel—designed by architect Paul Revere Williams in 1961—was saved from demolition and moved downtown in 2006 for this purpose, as a house for neon.
For buildings that weren’t as fortunate as La Concha Motel—what with Las Vegas’s fascination with the shiny and new—their neon signs may be the only proof of their onetime existence. “Often, a neon sign is the only remaining piece of a place that holds significance for the history of Las Vegas,” says executive director Danielle Kelly. They are “visual treasures that serve as placeholders for the many stories of one of America’s most luminous cities.” Restored signs from the museum’s collection are also now installed back on the Strip and as public art downtown.