One sign in Boneyard Park correctly calls neon signs “the classic Las Vegas art form”. Boneyard Park is across the street from The Neon Museum, a 5 Compass gem. This Neon Museum was established in 1996 when some citizens living in a place where tear down is much more common than preserve recognized the importance of the classic neon signs that had been moved to the Boneyard and abandoned like obsolete kitchen appliances.
The LaConcha, An aquatic themed motel, had a lobby that looked futuristic in the 1950s. Now it serves as the reception area/gift shop for The Neon Museum, the world’s largest collection of such signs. More that 160 have found their way to this 2 acre site, but only 6 have been restored.
The Neon Museum opened in 2012. Guided tours only are give every ½ hour from 10 am to 9 pm. If you want to see the 6 restored ones lit, like Ugly Duckling, choose an evening tour. Since these are more popular, book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Nicolette, our guide, told us that The Boneyard used to look like a junkyard. In my opinion, it still pretty much does. Its oldest sign is the 1930s Green Shack restaurant’s that promised cocktails/steak/chicken. Las Vegas was only about 30-years-old when it went up. The 1955 Moulin Rouge’s sign sparked commentary from Nicolette about why Las Vegas was dubbed “The Mississippi of the West”. Moulin had financial problems and didn’t last long, but its unrestored sign survived.
Visiting the Boneyard is a chance to learn Las Vegas history. The mounted cowboy who used to greet guests at the Hacienda Hotel with a hearty “Howdy, Partner!” is now part of 9 restored neons strung mostly along Las Vegas Boulevard between Fremont St. and Washington Ave. Part of a scenic byway, they’re maintained by The Neon Museum; and I’ve never passed by without seeing lots of people swarming them and taking photos. Downtown’s Sassy Sally’s is now Mermaids, reportedly the only place where nostalgic visitors can still use spare change in actual gambling machines. When Las Vegas Boulevard was Highway 91, the last gas station before total desert used to give free aspirin to losers returning to Los Angeles. The world’s 1st neon sign was probably in San Francisco. A neon sign can be very expensive to restore but can last 30 years. Our guide told us that local chapels, many of which have neon signs, make Las Vegas the world’s #2 wedding capital. I had to ask. According to Nicolette, who had clearly done extensive research, #1 is Istanbul!
If you don’t make it to Las Vegas and The Neon Museum soon, you’ll probably see some classics signs there from the venerable Riviera. It’s closing soon and being replaced by an addition to the already extensive Las Vegas Convention Center.