I love old relics and antiques. There is just something beautiful about touching an object worn away by time and knowing that it was once brand new and brought home by someone who may no longer even be on this earth. I’ve walked the aisles of antique malls for hours just looking at things that should have no nostalgic value for me, and yet do. How else could I explain my purchase of a wooden laundry hand wringer from the 1890s?
Where Vegas’ Past Lives On
The Las Vegas Strip is living thing. Renovations are constantly being made on the casinos and hotels. The older ones eventually disappear and new ones, bigger, grander, and shinier rise in their place. It’s history demolished and rewritten with brighter lights. Between visits, I would notice the changes, but never really wondered about what happened to casinos like the Aladdin or the Stardust. I was just amazed at the new ones popping up that brought things like the Eiffel Tower and the canals of Venice to this desert oasis town.
On my most recent trip through this place, I took a break from the tables to check out the newly renovated Neon Museum just north of the Strip. It was a part of town I’d never venture out to before. Arriving at the parking lot, it already felt like a different Vegas. I entered a concrete building with a wavy roof and tall glass paneling that looked like it was plucked right out of the 1950’s or 60’s. Turns out, it was. The visitor center of the Neon Museum is the restored lobby of the old La Concha motel, a clam shaped building designed by architect Paul Williams, in the Googie style of architecture that was heavily influenced by the futuristic designs of the the Space and Atomic age of the late 50’s and 60’s. While the interior was completely redesigned and outfitted with modern motion sensor activated flat screens, the building still retained much of its vintage charm.
The main attraction at the Neon Museum is course the old Neon signs that were kept around by the Young Electric Sign Company in a space they called the “boneyard.” True to it’s name, this place was where old decommissioned signs went to die. And yet they didn’t really. Here, they remained as a relevant reminder and bearer of all the memory that remained of old Las Vegas. These signs of casinos thought to have been long gone have somehow survived the elements, the neglect, and even time. Through the turnstile, we walked outside past a security office to the back of the La Concha lobby. There was no suspense. These massive signs usually seen high up and blinking at night were right there, some upright, while others leaned against each other forming a dusty gallery of vintage bulbs and a typographic buffet.
I did not recognize many of these signs, but it still tugged on that sense of nostalgia. I imagined when these signs were first finished. That last piece of glass blown and bent into a shape that would form the outlines of a shape or the curves of a letter. The completed sign would be hoisted up and secured ready to come to live and signal for motorists the name of a brand new hotel or casino just opening up. I imagined being at the opening of these casinos. And it makes me sad that I can’t time travel. It’s silly, but I let out a sigh whenever I think about this.
Some signs are whole and intact, while others are just individual letters trying to form a word, but missing one of its original members. Many still have bulbs that were there when the sign flashed for the last time.
And then I recognized one. I know this skulls. It’s supposed to be on the big Treasure Island sign. What was it doing here? Treasure Island is still around. I was just in the casino. It was only after the tour guide explained about the casino rebranding a few years from a family-oriented pirate theme hotel to something less yo-ho, yo-ho! that I realized that some signs are brought to the boneyard even while the casino lives on.
The Neon Museum was a beautiful reminder that although the lights of these old signs no longer shine, they don’t ever really fade away completely. It was nice to know that a part of Las Vegas history was still being preserved and kept around even as the city continues to change.