‘Welcome’ sign creator Betty Willis honored in hometown

Neon exhibit at Overton a tribute to pioneering designer

betty-willisBetty Willis visits the Neon Museum, home to some of her iconic work.

As a tribute to the late Betty Willis, designer of the world famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, the Neon Museum placed a small exhibit in her honor at the Lost City Museum in Overton, hometown of the renowned sign designer, who died at age 91 in 2015.

The exhibit opened July 4 and will close August 30. It features images of signs in the Neon Museum collection and a limited-edition lithograph of the Welcome sign that Betty and photographer William Hannapple autographed.

“It’s well worth the 63-mile drive up 1-15 and $5 admission for adults,” noted Rob McCoy, president and CEO. “Betty is known primarily for the Welcome sign but she also designed the distinctive and eye-catching signs for the Moulin Rouge, Blue Angel Motel and Bow and Arrow Motel.” Visit the Lost City Museum website for details.

Betty attended art school in Los Angeles. Her first work as a commercial artist after returning to Las Vegas featured showgirl illustrations for production show print advertisements. She later transitioned to designing neon signs. Betty was one of the only local women working in the sign design industry in the 1950s and worked until retiring at age 77.

How did she become involved in the Welcome sign design project?

Local salesman Ted Rogich envisioned a sizable welcome sign and approached her with the request to design it as a gateway to the city. She and Rogich sold it to Clark County for $4,000 upon completion in 1959. Betty never copyrighted the design but hoped it would be used freely to promote Las Vegas.

She most certainly got her wish.

And preservationists got theirs in 2009 when the National Register of Historic Places added the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign to its prestigious list.