Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Neon Museum sees the light

One of our contributors in the comments on the neon story posted this link. (Click on the headline above)


Anonymous said...

Posted on Sun, Oct. 20, 2002

Vegas lights: Neon in shadows of giant video screens

By Gary A. Warner

Orange County Register

LAS VEGAS - Hypnotic and sultry, glowing against the blue-black of the Western sky at dusk, neon signs have an allure that transcends the meager power of standard-issue lighting.

For half a century, Las Vegas has been the world capital of neon, its famed Strip and ``Glitter Gulch'' on fire with miles of tubes and millions of bulbs. Cascading, undulating, flaring, beckoning.

``Without neon, Nevada would fade into darkness,'' wrote Peter Bandurraga, one of the organizers of the Nevada Historical Society's landmark Neon Nights exhibit in 1990.

A dozen years later, though, neon is losing its grip on the city that once couldn't get enough of the stuff. Las Vegas' new megaresorts have fallen in love with the massive baseball-stadium-style video-screen signs. The up-market casinos attempting to clone the atmosphere of Venice, Paris, Rome and Bellagio, Italy, have opted for brighter but more visually sedate lighting schemes.

Neon hasn't exactly disappeared altogether. Even the McDonald's on Las Vegas Boulevard features a throbbing neon version of the golden arches.

A few classic neon hotel signs remain. The best of all is the bulbous, rolling red knob of light fronting the Flamingo. It's now inexcusably obscured by a pedestrian bridge taking slot hounds to Caesars Palace across the street.

The Frontier and the Stardust retain their classic neon fronts. Smaller spots like the La Concha and Holiday motels on the Strip are a throwback to Vegas' great gas light era. Nostalgia for neon even has some Las Vegans speaking fondly of the garish Circus Circus clown sign.

Bygone sparklers

The greatest collection of neon, the famed ``Glitter Gulch'' section of Fremont Street, has been given the architectural equivalent of a hairnet. The ``space frame'' of the Fremont Street Experience covers the neon of the old casinos and replaces its golden light with a high-decibel light and sound show.

One of Las Vegas' great symbols since 1951, the 75-foot-tall waving neon cowboy over the Pioneer Club, nicknamed ``Vegas Vic,'' appears to slouch under the metal ceiling. Across the way, boot-clad ``Vegas Vicki'' seems to have to sit down to avoid bumping her neon-lighted head.

The Fremont Street Experience at its best can be pulse-pounding entertainment. Many Las Vegans fondly recall when cars drove up and down the street and the stars shone overhead.

Neon has become such an endangered artifact in Las Vegas that it has its own ``museum.'' Since 1996, a nonprofit group has rehabilitated classic neon signs at a price tag of from a few thousand dollars to $200,000. The refurbished artifacts of Las Vegas' heyday are then affixed to pedestals planted on the side streets of ``Glitter Gulch.''

Strollers suddenly find themselves at eye level with glowing martini glasses from long-gone bars, the 1940 Chief Hotel Court sign and even the sparkling genie lamp from 1966 that once sat outside the old Aladdin Hotel.

Plaques tell the story of each bygone sparkler. The current star of the collection is the 40-foot-tall horse and rider from the Hacienda, which was literally blown away in 1996 to make way for the Mandalay Bay casino. The rider sits atop a 24-foot-high pole and can be seen from blocks away.

Restoration work

There are plans to add a visitors center near a downtown retail and entertainment complex befittingly dubbed Neonopolis. Fund raising continues for 35 signs awaiting restoration, including those from the Lone Palm Motel and the Sahara casino, and the massive Golden Nugget sign, in need of $196,000 in work.

Many of the signs needing work are stored at the famous ``bone yard'' of the Young Electric Sign Co., on Cameron Street west of the Strip.

For many, it's a round trip back to the company, commonly known by its acronym, YESCO. That's because many of them were created by the company's Las Vegas office, spurring the city's neon boom in the years after World War II. The Nevada Historical Society estimates that the Salt Lake City-based company is responsible for 60 percent of all electric signs in the state.

The bone yard isn't open to the public, though occasional tours have been organized in recent years. The casual visitor can still get a peek through the chain-link fence. The best views are from the parking lot of the property that flanks the southern end of the YESCO facility. Sometimes the large gate is open, giving unobstructed views of the rusty, dusty Golden Nugget sign leaning against an outbuilding wall, ready for rehab.

The context of the signs is largely gone. A bit of it has been recaptured at the Casino Legends Hall of Fame at the Tropicana Resort & Casino, where photos and memorabilia from the vanished gaming houses rest in relative peace.

A closer look

The chemical element neon was discovered in 1898 by a pair of British scientists. It wasn't until the early 20th century that its commercial applications grew.

Neon, sometimes combined with helium and argon gases, would radiate light when electrons were ``excited.''

Neon signs first appeared in Paris around World War I, then were brought to Los Angeles in 1923 to light a Packard car dealership in the mid-Wilshire Boulevard area.

Neon came to Las Vegas in 1929, with a number of small projects over the years. The first major neon sign in Las Vegas was the Young Electric Sign Co.'s project for the Boulder Club, unveiled in 1954.

Anonymous said...

If you want to find out about neon check out this site