Despite the popular belief held by many that Las Vegas has no history because its buildings are destroyed when they become dated, the city indeed has a past, one that is illuminated through its wealth of neon signs.
Now visitors to downtown Las Vegas can experience that past on daily, guided tours at the Neon Museum. (For a slideshow of some of what you can see at the museum, click here or on the images.)
The museum recently opened a new visitors center and began offering tours of its "Neon Boneyard," a two-acre outdoor space home to more than 150 signs dating from the 1930s through today. Prior to October, guests could only tour the Boneyard by making reservations in advance.
"We have a story, and the world wants to hear that story," said Bill Marion, board chairman of the Neon Museum.
"While Las Vegas is not always considered culturally influential as a city, its impact on the evolution of signage and the neon sign in particular is remarkable," said Danielle Kelly, executive director of the museum.
Though the Boneyard has been in this area for several years, the Neon Museum's visitors center opened only two months ago, inside the former La Concha Motel lobby.
A striking example of Googie architecture, a futuristic style that became popular in the 1950s, the La Concha Motel was constructed in 1961 on Las Vegas Boulevard South, saved from demolition in 2005 and moved to its current location in 2006.
"It is clear the La Concha is significant architecturally for the city of Las Vegas," Kelly said. "It has been an incredible journey bringing the building back to life."
With the opening of this on-site visitors center, it has become much easier for people to tour the Neon Boneyard, the highlight of the Neon Museum. The reopening of the attraction with these enhancements makes a visit more enjoyable.
"When people come to the Neon Museum, they come curious about the signs, but they leave with so much more," Kelly said.
A purposeful layout of the signs along a walking path and knowledgeable guides offer standard textbook history about the artifacts as well as anecdotes about the colorful characters and stories of Las Vegas' past. The hourlong tours wander past a variety of well-known signs in hotel row, including those from the Golden Nugget, Binion's and Fitzgerald's, as well as several signs from the downtown area and other businesses, such as diners, auto dealers and wedding chapels. The genie lamp from the Aladdin Hotel & Casino isn't a typical hotel sign, but it's one of many neon artifacts that Las Vegas fans may recognize.
"Our guides really bring the signs to life with their storytelling," Kelly said. "Visitors get a glimpse into the history of Las Vegas, but they're also shown how these signs were innovative in the realms of art, design and architecture."
The signs have been preserved, but they're clearly dated, with peeling coats of paint, missing light bulbs and dangling wires. Guests who visit should wear close-toed shoes and be prepared for appropriate weather conditions as the entire tour takes place outside and is not shaded.
Guided tours are available Mondays through Saturdays every half hour starting at 10 a.m., with the last tour departing at 4 p.m. Tickets cost $18 for adults and $12 for students, senior citizens, veterans and Nevada residents.
The Neon Museum also encompasses 16 restored and illuminated signs installed as public art throughout downtown Las Vegas, which can be viewed at any time for free.