LAS VEGAS -- Located in historic Lorenzi Park here -- just five
miles from the bustling Las Vegas Strip -- the Nevada State Museum
and Historical Society has led a fairly quiet existence for some 20
While more than 60,000 people visit the 3,500-square-foot museum
each year, it's the new kids on the Strip -- such as the Bellagio
Gallery of Fine Art and the Guggenheim -- that have gotten the
big-name exhibits and the most attention during the past few
That's before Greta Brunschwyler became the state museum's
director last October.
From the beginning, Brunschwyler racked her brain for ideas that
would get more visitors through the door and put the museum on the
She turned to her friend Sandra Harris, executive director of
the Neon Museum, which had a stash of unrestored neon signs that
had never been publicly displayed.
The two decided to borrow from this collection for "Neon
Unplugged: Signs from the Boneyard," which will be on display
through Jan. 4.
The show, which takes up two of the museum's three rotating
exhibit spaces, has been a hit with the public since it opened in
May, according to Brunschwyler.
"It has been mutually beneficial for both of us [the State
Museum and the Neon Museum]," she said. "We've gotten more people
in the door, and the publicity from the show has stretched even
into different countries."
Those who remember Las Vegas from years ago may recognize signs
for the Landmark and the Normandie hotels, which are on display, as
well as parts of the Stardust sign. Visitors may be intrigued by
the signs' flash and color as well as their size: One letter of the
old Stardust sign, for example, measures 14 feet.
"We have some really wonderful pieces from around Las Vegas,"
Brunschwyler said. "They were chosen because they are in good
shape, highly recognizable and they fit in the building. Some of
the ones I wanted [to include in the display weighed] tons and tons
and were too big."
The groundbreaking exhibit is a departure for the museum, which
usually focuses on natural history, Brunschwyler said.
"What we show in our galleries is the history of Las Vegas and
southern Nevada and a little about the state [overall]," she
The museum features three permanent galleries, one of which
focuses on the natural history of the Mojave Desert.
Then there's the ice age gallery, complete with the state fossil
-- an ichthyosaur. "Las Vegas used to be underwater, and there were
these huge fish about 40 feet long," she said.
This gallery features many interactive activities for children.
"You can rub images of the fossils, and there are a lot of things
to touch," said Brunschwyler. "You can also walk underneath
[replicas of] Columbian mammoth bones [that have been put
together]. It's very cool."
The third gallery focuses on history, which starts with the
Native American presence in the area and moves along through time
to displays about Nellis Air Force Base and Hoover Dam. The museum
even recreated "Bugsy" Siegel's hotel suite, complete with what had
been some of his possessions, Brunschwyler said.
Other topics covered in the gallery include "the Strip, mining,
nuclear testing and World War II stuff," she added.
For groups, the museum has an auditorium with media capabilities
that can accommodate up to 100 people. The entire museum, which can
fit 500 people comfortably, also can be booked after hours.
Just a short cab ride away from the Strip and also accessible
via the local bus line, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
daily except for Christmas, New Year's Day and Thanksgiving.
Admission is $2 per person for visitors age 18 and older.
The museum can be reached at (702) 486-5205; more information
also can be found at www.nevadaculture.org.
To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .
For more details on this article, see Signs of the times, in neon.