Blinded by the Light

Today on Museum Bites we’re taking a walk on the wild side with a twilight tour through the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The museum’s outdoor boneyard features a weighty collection of more than 200 signs from Las Vegas’s glitzy past. At first glance, the boneyard has the look and feel of a well-tended junkyard.  Like a washed-up showgirl, the chipped paint and rusted metal reveal a side of Las Vegas that has seen better times. But as the sun began to set, our tour guide transported us back to Las Vegas’s younger days, and the time-worn marquees shimmered to life.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy a taste of old Las Vegas…

Golden Nugget, Photo by John VanderHaagen (1964)
Photo by John VanderHaagen (1964)

Golden Nugget Casino: The Golden Nugget was built in 1946 by gangster, Guy McAfee on historic Fremont Street in Las Vegas.  Touted as the Million Dollar Casino, the Nugget’s lavish décor included Italian marble and Victorian carved wood.  In 1949, McAfee added a 100-foot marquee and hyped it as the biggest and brightest in the world.  Competitors quickly upped the ante, and Fremont Street soon became known as the Glitter Gulch.

Neon Museum-2017-20
Photo by cjverb (2017)

Unfortunately, the bashed and rusting hulk on display in the boneyard is in desperate need of a makeover.  With a little luck and a lot of elbow grease (and donations!), the Neon Museum crew will hopefully restore the Golden Nugget’s sign to its former brilliance.

Binion's BEFORE-Photo by Larry D. Moore (1986)
Photo by Larry D. Moore (1986)

Binion’s Horseshoe Club: Across the street from the Golden Nugget, Texas gangster, Benny Binion opened the Horseshoe Club in 1951.  Living up to its motto of, good food, good whiskey, and a good gamble, Binion’s was the first casino to install carpeting, air conditioning, and an airport shuttle.  In 1970, Benny and 10 of his pals began an “intimate poker game” that in later years morphed into the World Series of Poker.

Binion's AFTER-Photo by cjverb (2017)
Photo by cjverb (2017)

The Neon Museum’s boneyard features a section of Binion’s former 3-story marquee.  Created in 1962, this ginormous sign contained over 100 interlocking Hs, and over 8 miles of neon tubing.  The array of flashing Hs on display at the boneyard was not only eye-popping, it cranked out an intense amount of heat.  Which begs the question, how many gamblers does it take to change a Binion’s lightbulb?

Silver Slipper Before-Photo by NEH.gov
Silver Slipper-circa 1950

Silver Slipper Saloon & Gambling Hall: The Silver Slipper made its debut in 1950.  Once owned by Howard Hughes in the late 1960s, this casino was the first to hire a female card dealer in 1971.  The Slipper’s cleverly designed marquee included a giant, rotating shoe that was lit by 980 incandescent bulbs.  Jack Larson of the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) based the mold for this massive shoe on his wife’s bedroom slipper.

Silver Slipper AFTER-Photo by cjverb (2017)
Photo by cjverb (2017)

Several years after it was retired to the boneyard, Las Vegas legend, Wayne Newton stopped by for a photo shoot.  He stumbled onto the iconic shoe and accidently punched a hole in its toe.  Fortunately, it was repaired and now lights up a section of Las Vegas Boulevard along with eight other restored signs.  Click on Neon Museum Urban Gallery for a look-see.

Stardust-Photo by Henning Schlottmann (1990)
Photo by Henning Schlottmann (1990)

Stardust Casino & Hotel: In 1958, the Stardust made a splashy debut on the Strip, touting the largest casino and swimming pool in the state, and the largest hotel in the world.  Its 1,065 rooms are mere pocket change compared to today’s standards.  The Stardust was the first casino to feature a “Parisian floorshow” (think showgirls and feathered boas) called the Lido de Paris revue.  Capitalizing on the space race craze, the Stardust marquee sported a dazzling display of neon stars and planets.  According to the Las Vegas Sun, when lit, the 7,100 feet of neon tubing and 11,000 incandescent lights could be seen from several miles away.  If that weren’t enough, in 1968, a 188-foot star-studded sign was added to the mix.  For decades, this multicolored beacon towered over the Strip.

Stardust-Photo by cjverb (2017)
Stardust-Photo by cjverb (2017)

Today, the boneyard includes sections of the starry pylon and marquee.  Glowing a fiery red, these remnants of Las Vegas’s luminous past were the highlight of our tour.

Las Vegas is a town where big, bright and bold is best.  The city’s high rollers regularly implode the old properties to make way for the new.  Fortunately, the Neon Museum continues to collect and preserve Las Vegas’s architectural history.  Click on this Neon Museum link to learn more.

Neon Museum-Photo by cjverb (2017)
Neon Museum-Photo by cjverb (2017)

Fun Neon Fact: The letters in the Neon Museum’s sign were taken from several iconic Las Vegas marquees located in the boneyard.  Following is a list of each letter and corresponding marquee.

N —> Golden Nugget

—> Caesar’s Palace

o —> Binion’s Horseshoe

n —> Desert Inn

Next week, we’ll be digging into Nevada’s atomic history with a tour through the National Atomic Testing Museum.  Have a great week!

Sources:

Binions

John F. Kennedy Library

Las Vegas Sun

Magazine for the National Endowment of the Humanities

McCracken, RD (1996) Las Vegas: The Great American Playground

Mob Museum

Neon Museum

Schwartz, D (2003) Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Beyond

Vegasclick.com

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