In a city known for constantly reimagining itself and imploding buildings, the Neon Museum -- dedicated to preserving iconic signs of Las Vegas -- is planning an ambitious expansion and a rare exhibit by movie director Tim Burton.
Neon2020 will incorporate a 32,000-square-foot addition, which will double the size of the downtown museum. Through a long-term lease with the city, the museum acquired the shuttered Reed Whipple Cultural Center, across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Neon Boneyard, an outdoor space where more than 200 signs from the city's past reside.
The first phase of Neon2020 will include an indoor gallery, storage, classrooms and administrative offices. The building will be named Ne10, representing neon's chemical symbol, Ne, and atomic number, 10. The remodeling is scheduled to be completed during the first quarter of 2020.
The second component of Neon2020 will boldly go vertical since space for the burgeoning collection is limited. A 30-foot-high grid will enable the museum to display more signs. Electrified signs from the old Las Vegas Club, Barbary Coast, Binion's and other classic properties are expected to be exhibited.
Planning is also underway to create a taxi, rideshare and bus drop-off area to alleviate congestion at the site, a half-mile north of Fremont Street.
A rendering of the Neon2020 project, which will greatly expand the museum. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Neon Museum
Since 1996, the nonprofit Neon Museum has collected, preserved and displayed famous and not-so-famous Las Vegas signs. The collection includes unrestored signs (illuminated with ground lighting at sunset) and many working signs.
Among the recently added vintage emblems: the Ugly Duckling, which called attention to a car sales company in the 1990s, and the Flame, which was perched on top of a beloved Western-themed restaurant on Desert Inn Road from 1961 to 1993.
Visitors can take an hour-long guided tour ($28) or walk through with a general admission ($22). The museum also offers 15-minute themed Gallery Talks included with daytime general admission tickets. Private tours and photo walks are also available.
The audiovisual spectacle "Brilliant!" ($23) debuted last year. Created by artist Craig Winslow, the 30-minute show takes visitors on a colorful tour of the Strip's history. The production illuminates 40 signs using projection-mapping technology synced to a soundtrack of legendary Las Vegas performers. A combo ticket for "Brilliant!" and a guided tour is $42.
The former La Concha Motel lobby, designed by renowned African American architect Paul Revere Williams, houses the visitors center. The distinctive shell-shaped building, constructed in 1961 on Las Vegas Boulevard next to the Riviera Hotel, is an example of midcentury modern design. It was saved from demolition in 2005 and moved to its current location in 2006. Williams also designed the Guardian Angel Cathedral (1963) just off the Las Vegas Strip.
The museum's collection includes nine restored signs installed as public art throughout downtown Las Vegas. Ongoing efforts include public education, outreach, research, archival preservation and a grant-funded survey of neon signs.
"The Neon Museum has been a wonderfully successful addition to downtown, the city's cultural center," Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said. "This expansion will allow the museum to continue its important work of preserving the city's history through our iconic neon signs."
The Las Vegas City Council approved the lease for the expansion on May 15. The Neon Museum will pay the city $1 annually in rent to use the Reed Whipple Cultural Center. The three-year lease agreement has an option for a 27-year extension with the same terms.
The city continues to be a strategic partner in the museum's continued development, said Rob McCoy, the Neon Museum's president and CEO. In addition to the lease, the city is providing a $2.2 million grant to support ongoing operational costs.
A model of a sandworm that terrorized ghosts in “Beetlejuice” is an example of the large-scale work the Neon Museum will feature in its Tim Burton exhibit. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Art of Tim Burton
Tim Burton exhibition
The museum will host an exhibition of Tim Burton's original fine art Oct. 15 through Feb. 15. It will be the first time in almost a decade that the acclaimed film director, producer, artist, writer and animator will display his art in the U.S.
"Tim Burton @ the Neon Museum" will be designed to take advantage of the venue's open-air spaces, its large-scale works integrated with the museum's collection. According to a news release, the site-specific exhibition will be a retrospective of Burton's creative history and will express his affection for the Neon Museum, seen in his 1996 film "Mars Attacks!"
It will include new work and previously exhibited pieces. Burton has previously shown his work in Los Angeles, Paris, Prague, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Melbourne, Australia. His last exhibition in the U.S, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2009-2010, drew more than 800,000 visitors.
His films include "Beetlejuice" (1988), "The Nightmare Before Christmas"(1993) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), which won two Academy Awards. His most recent film, a live-action reimagining of the Disney animation classic "Dumbo," opened earlier this year.
"To say we're flattered that Mr. Burton has chosen our museum for this exhibition would be an understatement," McCoy said. "But when you think about it, Tim is one of the few artists who can match the great imagination of Las Vegas."