In the dark of night, the dynamite charges explode. Puffs of sparks and debris shoot out the windows and the building begins to lose its balance. Wobbling, as though it has become weak in the knees, knowing its final moments are near. The walls give way and floor after floor comes crashing down to the ground. It is the fate of many hotels in Las Vegas.
While researching for this post I watched several demolition videos of former Las Vegas hotels. My heart sunk with each building collapsing to the ground while hearing the cheers of onlookers. And while it may be strange to have feelings for an inanimate object, as a lover of architecture, I can not help but feel some sort of remorse for the buildings.
The Neon Museum Boneyard has a collection of signs from demolished Las Vegas hotels, such as The Stardust (1958 – 2007), The Aladdin (1962 -1998) and the Riviera (1955 – 2015), and while the buildings may no longer stand, the glittery signs that once stood proudly outside their hotels can still represent and be admired while on the Boneyard tour.
There are restored neon signs that can be seen in the Fremont Street area, such as the cowboy riding a horse, from the Hacienda Hotel (1956 -1996). But the main collection can be viewed at the museum, where an extensive collection of neon signs are housed. As you approach the museum you enter through a space age looking building that once served as the La Concha Hotel lobby (1961 – 2004). A short path leads you into a gift shop where the tour meets before departing.
There are two types of tours offered, daylight and nighttime. I took a daytime tour due to my schedule while in Vegas. A return trip for a nighttime tour will for sure be on my list to do next time. The docent lead us out of the gift shop area and began giving us the history behind the signs. There are hundreds of neon signs here but do to the extreme cost of restoring them, only 7 signs in the collection have been completely restored. Restored signs can be identified as they are protected by plexiglass. The rest of the signs are illuminated (on the night tour) with ground lighting.
We rounded the corner from the gift shop and followed the gravel path that snaked around the yard. Signs laid on either side of the path. Here a fair warning was given to not step off the path or touch the signs.
The path begins with a classic sign from The Golden Nugget (1946 – ) leading us to the Moulin Rouge Hotel sign (May 1955 – November 1955), the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas. Although this casino has been officially closed since 1955, it opens up every 2 years for 8 hours per Nevada law. Although the law may seem funny it keeps the owner’s unrestricted gaming license active. Unrestricted gaming licenses are for casinos without a hotel and were discontinued in the 1990’s. Due to fires in 2003 and 2009, leaving nothing behind, the Rouge is now a pop-up casino in the truest form. A trailer is brought in with the required 15 gaming machines to the former hotel site every 2 years to fulfill the gaming requirements to keep the license active. Oddly enough, no gambling actually has to happen during their open hours.
Here we also learned about the Moulin Rouge sign designer, Betty Willis. Willis also designed the Stardust Casino sign, the Bow and Arrow Motel sign, the Del Mar Motel sign and the Riviera pylon. Although her most recognizable work is definitely the Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign, which has been welcoming tourists to Las Vegas since 1959.
The tour continued on with more history of the signs, gambling and historical highlights from Sin City. One of my favorite signs was from Steiner Cleaners. A cute little shirt that happened to be a doodle by the daughter of the dry cleaning store owner. They took the doodle and transformed it into their sign. Steiner Cleaners became well-known as they were the preferred dry cleaner of Liberace.
The end of the tour concludes at the gift shop. There you are given a few minutes to take photos of the collection of signs in this area. Here you will see the Stardust, the Frontier, and the Sahara signs but the showstopper is definitely the little yellow duck. The sign was used for a car wash and it was believed that the car wash went out of business because of the cost of the sign, a shocking $250,000 USD.
Interested in taking your own tour of the Neon Museum Boneyard? Pre-purchasing tickets is highly recommended and can be done so at their website. The museum is located at 770 Las Vegas Blvd North. If traveling by car, there is free parking available at the museum. If you are staying on the strip and took the Deuce down to Fremont street you can get to the museum pretty easily with public transportation. Take the 113 bus from the Carson & 4th Street stop to the Las Vegas Blvd at Cashman stop (near the library). The stop is after the Neon Museum, but it is only 0.2 of a mile from the bus stop. Your Deuce ticket includes rides on the RTC buses as well, which the RTC will be the bus that will take you to the museum.