Standing in the lobby on a 96 degree day trying to take in as much water as possible before spending an hour in the desert sun. Not just any lobby though, hell no. This shell shaped relic served as the La Concha lobby, a Strip motel that opened in 1961 just south of the Riviera. The motel was closed in 2004 and later met the wrecking ball. La Concha’s lobby, however, was disassembled and with the aid of $600,000 in donations, given a new lease on life as the Neon Museum’s first stop for visitors.
The tour hadn’t even started and my imagination was already running wild. Can you imagine what those walls had seen and heard over the years?
The Neon Museum is a nonprofit organization that salvages and restores as much vintage Vegas neon as they can. They offer day and night tours that are led by engaging and knowledgeable guides making the experience a special one.
Our guide introduced herself to the small group, laid some ground rules, and off we went. There was so much to see – Layers upon layers of signage. I couldn’t wipe the shit eating grin off my face the entire hour, but here are 10 of my favorite pieces in the boneyard.
Binion’s Upside Down Horseshoes
Upside down horseshoes are said to bring bad luck and Benny Binion used that to his advantage, forcing his patrons to walk right under them on the way in. Binion was also the first Vegas Casino owner to put carpet on the casino floor and cold, complimentary drinks in our hand.
Treasure Island Skull
The skull was the centerpiece of the sign outside what is now referred to as TI. This noggin is so massive that you can see it from google earth, staring straight up at you. The Strip may be de-theming, but you can still find plenty of flair at the boneyard.
Green Shack Sign
The sign is dated to the 1930’s and advertised Cocktails, Steak and Chicken to laborers that commuted from Las Vegas to work on the Hoover Dam. The restaurant closed in 1999 and the signature green building was finally razed in 2005. All that was saved from the destruction were 2 signs. The one pictured at the Neon Museum and another standing on the old, empty lot, paying tribute to a business that time passed by. That’s Las Vegas for you.
El Portal Original Sign
The theater, now the Indian Arts and Crafts store, located on Fremont street was an oasis in the desert as the first Vegas building to install air conditioning. The property served as a theater from 1928 to the late 70’s when it transitioned into a gift shop. There are currently plans in the works though to turn the historic building into a Tavern/Food court which would severely hinder your ability to buy moccasins on Fremont Street. Stock up now.
The first integrated Las Vegas casino that allowed patrons and performers of all colors to party into the morning with legends of the time to include Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. The Moulin Rouge sign now lays protected at the Neon Museum while its former home has suffered numerous fires and subsequent phases of demolition. Only a portion of the structure still stands as Las Vegas waits for the property to catch a new breath of life.
Fitzgerald’s operated under this identity from 1987-2012 and has now been transformed to the D by Fremont Street visionary Derek Stevens. The property had previously operated as Sundance from 1980-1987. You can find the gold coins that filled Fitzgerald’s pot above the entrance of the casino scattered about at the Neon Museum.
Binion’s H Backdrop
Another sign that greeted gamblers at Binion’s was this mesmerizing wall of interlocking H’s.
Sassy Sally’s was a Fremont Street Casino that operated from 1981-2000 until it was morphed into Mermaids. The structure is no longer standing as it was brought to the ground to make room for the Stevens brothers 18 Fremont project which will also sit on land once occupied by the Las Vegas Club.
Cromwell may be a swanky, trendy and polished up boutique casino and hotel today, but the Barbary Coast sign at the Neon Museum brings you back to a time when the property was a low stakes, dingy, drinking and gambling destination. Barbary opened in 1979 and has lived to see an enormous amount of change from its vantage point on the strip. In 2007, the property was acquired by Harrah’s and renamed Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon to honor the founder “Bill” Harrah.
There are enough sprinkles of the Stardust’s YESCO designed signage around this Neon graveyard to make a guy smile… Until you remember there is still only a shell of a structure sitting on Stardust’s old piece of land. That may change however as there seems to be a growing sense of urgency around the Resorts World project.
The sign that greeted me to Sahara went up in the 1990s and came down in 2013 as part of the property’s transition to SLS Las Vegas. With rumors of SLS potentially re-branding to Sahara under new ownership (fingers crossed!) they may want to consider tuning her up for an encore act.
After the tour had come to an end and we were released into the gift shop. The hour I spent soaking in the desert rays had wreaked havoc on my emerging bald spot and uncovered feet. Bring sunblock, and nobody will judge you if you grab an umbrella.
If Las Vegas history is even a remote interest, or if you are a traveler that has been coming to town for a long time and want to turn back the clock, the Neon Museum is a nostalgic must see. The crew at the boneyard does a fantastic job articulating the history of each piece as you make your way through the museum and its certainly worth the money and the time.
Ensure you book your Neon Museum tickets early as slots fill quickly!
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