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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Neon Museum Boneyard: Sin City history in lights

Bright lights, big city: A slice of Sin City's history at the Neon Museum Boneyard. Credit: Bark.

By Blane Bachelor

Neon signs are the iconic art form of Las Vegas. But as a more generic image takes over The Strip, dozens of the neon signs that once adorned casinos, hotels and nightclubs have been removed. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of a local nonprofit, they’ve found a new home at the Neon Museum Boneyard – or Neon Graveyard, as it’s also called — where visitors can experience the Sin City of yesteryear with a tour of the colorful relics.

The graveyard, which is part of the city’s downtown revitalization (and, conveniently for budget-minded tourists, close to several cheap Las Vegas hotels), will get a boost from the $1.5 million visitor center, which is scheduled to open this May. The building is the old scallop-edged lobby of the La Concha Motel, which is on the National Historic Register, and is part of an effort to increase visitors’ access to the signs as part of the restoration effort.

The nonprofit Neon Museum has been collecting the old signs since 1996 as a way to preserve a slice of Las Vegas’s richest history. The 150-sign collection is constantly changing, as new signs arrive from newly imploded or remodeled hotels, and old ones are repaired and restored and then put back on display at the nearby The Fremont Street Experience and East Fremont District. Signs date from the late 1930s through the early 1990s, representing motels, local businesses, and popular casino resorts.

Currently, there are two ways for visitors to experience the impressive restoration efforts. They can schedule a $15 guided tour at the two-acre park where most of the collection is housed, in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods on Las Vegas Boulevard. The exact address, however, is revealed only when appointments are confirmed (visit www.neonmuseum.org to schedule one). Due to high demand, visitors are encouraged to make appointments at least two weeks out.

Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the museum’s self-described “outdoor gallery,” which begins in front of the Neonopolis at Las Vegas Boulevard near the Hacienda Horse and Rider, and includes the original Aladdin’s Lamp. The gallery extends to the 3rd Street cul-de-sac adjacent to The Fremont Street Experience canopy, an area that’s also convenient to several cheap Las Vegas hotels, including the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino and the Frontier Hotel & Casino.

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Blane Bachelor, a San Francisco-based travel writer, is looking forward to seeing the Neon Museum Visitor Center on her next trip to Las Vegas.

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