The Education and Engagement programs at The Neon Museum invite the public to experience the history and artistry of our unique sign collection.  We encourage engagement through a variety of channels, including public tours, Brilliant!, special exhibitions, lectures and panel discussions, family and school programs, educator resources, outreach, creative workshops, and more. The Museum’s archives and research library are available to the community and professional scholars alike (limited availability, by appointment only). 

 

Educators

Lesson plans, school tour information, and other resources for educators.

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Researchers

Want to research in the Museum's archives or be a Scholar in Residence? Find out more at the link below. You can also access the Oral History Project and other scholarly resources.

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Las Vegas Luminaries

Las Vegas Luminaries shines a light on the diverse communities and lesser-known individuals who helped to shape Las Vegas's vibrant, colorful and contrasting cultural history. The mural was painted by Las Vegas residents Nanda Sharif-pour and Ali Fathollahi. 

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The Las Vegas Strip

Once a desolate stretch of road along Highway 91, the original route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, “The Strip” is a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) section of Las Vegas Boulevard whose combined casinos, resorts, restaurants, hotels and hot spots give off a collective glow so bright it can be seen from outer space.

In 1931 the Pair-o-Dice Club opened as the first casino along the Vegas-bound stretch of Highway 91. 2 The Strip earned its moniker from entrepreneur Guy McAfee, an investor and law enforcement agent from Hollywood that likened the stretch to Hollywood’s famed “Sunset Strip.” In 1938, McAfee purchased the Pair-o-Dice Club and changed the name to Club 91.  America’s love affair with the car took center stage in the 1940s and 50s, simultaneously large and relatively inexpensive tracts of land were snatched up along the popular automobile route. Resorts set up shop along the highway offering luxuries and amenities not found in the accommodations Downtown. Resorts and casinos began to build far back from the road to make use of the front of their properties for lavish displays of luxury like fountains, super-sized signage and, of course, plenty of room for parking.  

Designers and architects competed for casino-goers' attention through the creation of colossal neon signs and marquees that climbed ever skyward. Hotel themes conjured visions of far-off, exotic locations and the post-World War Two economic boom meant visitors had plenty of extra income to spend not only on gaming, but also on entertainment. World class singers, dancers, magicians and variety acts headlined showrooms up and down The Strip, earning Las Vegas the moniker “The Entertainment Capital of the World.” 

Properties on The Strip are in a constant state of evolution, with older buildings being bought, sold or imploded to make room for the latest displays of out-of-this-world opulence. As both style and sensibilities change, The Strip changes too. Neon signs were once the dominant form of signage along the Boulevard but over time these signs began to be replaced by new technologies like backlit plexiglass and later LED. Many of the signs you see in the Neon Boneyard are remnants of the glamor of Las Vegas’ glimmering past.  

 

Highlighted Strip Properties

 

 

Sahara (1952-2011) SLS (2014-2019) Sahara Las Vegas (2019-Present)
Sahara, c. 1952-1953. Las Vegas News Bureau

 

The Sahara opened in 1952 with 240 rooms housed in four modest two-story buildings situated around an Olympic sized swimming pool. The hotel and casino featured an African desert-Moroccan styled theme with camel statues and oasis scenes painted onto interior murals, it was nicknamed the "Jewel of the Desert."

The Sahara is particularly remembered for its lounge shows, with many famous stars performing in their famed "Congo Room." Early headliners included Louis Prima and Keely Smith. The Beatles stayed at the Sahara when they played Las Vegas’ convention center in 1964 and had slot machines brought to their room instead of visiting casinos to protect themselves from excitable fans of the “Fab Four.”

Sahara closed in 2011 and the SLS opened in its place in 2014. The name was changed back to Sahara in 2019. The large Sahara sign on display in the Boneyard is from the 1990s and would have been installed over the porte cochère (automobile entrance) along Paradise Ave. Other letters from the Sahara can be found throughout the collection.

 

La Concha Motel (1961-2004)
La Concha Motel, 1980. Las Vegas News Bureau
The La Concha Motel opened in 1961 as a striking example of mid-century modern design. The swooping shell shape of the building (La Concha means shell in Spanish) was made up of a series of parabolic curves that gave the space-age structure its iconic look. The designer of this motel was none other than Paul Revere Williams, the first Black architect admitted to the American Institute of Architects and noted “architect to the stars.” The shell theme was continued into the sign as each letter of M-O-T-E-L was adorned with a glowing red scalloped neon seashell.
La Concha closed in 2004 and the historic motel lobby and portions of the signage were relocated to the site of the Neon Museum to serve as the lobby and visitors center.

 

Stardust Resort and Casino (1958-2006) | Resorts World (2021-Present)
Stardust Resort and Casino, 1975. Las Vegas News Bureau
The space race of the late 1950s launched the American imagination into the far reaches of the galaxy. The Stardust Casino opened in 1958 with theming that mirrored the skyward visions of visitors to Las Vegas. The Stardust took signage to new heights in 1968 with the building of their unparalleled 188-foot-tall mega-pylon, featuring an atomic cloud, animated neon four-pointed stars and a design that took home multiple awards and accolades.
The Stardust was also home to the Lido de Paris, a French-style dance and variety revue instrumental in creating the glamorous image of the Las Vegas showgirl we know today. The “Lido” ran from 1958-1991, dazzling audiences with more than 22,000 performances. The show also played a big part in launching the career of famed magic duo Siegfried and Roy, they premiered their act at the Stardust’s Lido in 1968. The Stardust replaced the sign’s trademark angular atomic typeface with the more generic Helvetica typeface in 1991. Both sets of letters are part of the collection at The Neon Museum.
The historic property closed in 2006 and segments from the sign’s cloud and stars made their way to the Boneyard. The site is now home to Resorts World as of 2021.

 

Desert Inn (1950-2000) | Wynn (2005-Present) | Encore (2008-Present)
Desert Inn, c. 1960s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Desert Inn, fondly referred to as the “D.I.,” opened in 1950 on the growing Las Vegas Strip with 300 rooms and one of the largest casino floors (2,400 sq ft) in Nevada at the time. Legendary performer Frank Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn’s Painted Desert Room in 1951 kicking off his 43 year run as a staple of the Las Vegas lounge scene.
While home to many guests, none were as influential as billionaire, Howard Hughes, who purchased the property in 1967 after an extended stay in the penthouse. This acquisition would set off a string of casino and resort purchases he made that included the Frontier, the Sands, Castaways, the Landmark, and the Silver Slipper Casino, creating one of the first multi-property corporations on the Strip. Desert Inn letters from the 1970s are part of The Neon Museum collection today.

The Desert Inn closed in 2000 and made way for the Wynn (2005) and Encore (2008)

 

The Sands Hotel and Casino (1952-1996) | The Venetian (1999-Present)
The Sands Hotel and Casino, 1953. Las Vegas News Bureau
The Sands opened in 1952 with 200 rooms arranged in four modest two-story buildings. The modernist-styled 56-foot-tall sign featured white scripted letters outlined in red neon set against a lattice background. The lower marquee listed the names of the biggest names in entertainment at the time; headliners like Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. packed the legendary Copa Room and the swinging hotspot became the setting of the 1960 film Oceans 11.
Racial segregation barred Black people from entering casinos or hotels Downtown or on the Strip. Thanks in great part to the leverage that Frank Sinatra held at the Sands, and his admiration for fellow performer and friend, Sammy Davis Jr., the Sands became the first property on the strip to employ Black waiters and busboys and to welcome black guests to gamble in the casino in 1961.
The Sands enjoyed a run of more than 44 years on the Strip before being demolished to construct the Venetian, which opened as an opulent Italian inspired property (complete with Venice-style canals and gondalas) in 1999.
Mirage (1989-Present)
Mirage Resort and Casino, 1989. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Mirage was the first new resort on the strip in 15 years when it opened in 1989 on site of the former Castaways Hotel and Casino. The Mirage spared no expense in the construction of this $630 million dollar, tropical-themed “mega resort,” the first of its size and scale to open on the Las Vegas Strip. The resort featured an atrium brimming with verdant plants, an exotic animal habitat, known as The Secret Garden, and a trademark volcano show that provided free entertainment to pedestrians beckoning them to explore the “oasis in the desert.”
The Mirage also became home to the longstanding residency of the magical duo Siegfried and Roy, whose white tigers and internationally renowned illusions held audiences spellbound for more than 13 years.
Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (1946-Present)
Flamingo Hotel, c. 1950s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

 

The Flamingo was the third resort to open on the strip in 1946, it has operated under the “Flamingo” name in various guises since. While other properties of the time embraced a “Wild West” theme, Flamingo broke the mold and designed their resort in a sophisticated “California Modern” style. Glamour and glitz were on full display as the biggest names in Hollywood flocked to this legendary property named after the leggy bird. The Flamingo has been home to some show-stopping signs over the years, including the 60 foot “Champagne Tower” which effervesced with an animated pattern of neon bubbles. It is important to note that due to extensive renovations over the years none of the original structure remains.
Explore The Neon Museum collection to find feathers from the famed Flamingo throughout our Boneyard. These pink plumes were designed by Raul Rodriguez, an artist best known for his work creating flowery floats for the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, CA.
Caesars Palace (1966-Present)
Caesars Palace, 1966. The Neon Museum Prints and Photographs Collection
Caesars Palace, the Roman themed resort, officially opened in 1966. At 700 rooms, it was the largest single hotel ever built at the time in Nevada. Owner Jay Sarno wanted to create a space where every guest “felt like Caesar.” Visitors were attended to by staff in togas, and the spectacular signage in front sat atop tall Corinthian columns and evoked images of a Roman temple.
The Caesars’ sign included white and blue Greek-style letters with gold Roman Centurion figures on a blue background. Repurposing the same sign, these design elements were replaced in the late 1980s with the profile of Caesar, a faux marble design, gold trim, and red lettering. This sign was later swapped out for a digital marquee and now rests at The Neon Boneyard.

Aladdin Hotel and Casino (1966-2007) | Planet Hollywood (2007-Present)
Aladdin Hotel and Casino, 1966. Las Vegas News Bureau
The Aladdin Hotel and Casino opened as an “Arabian Nights” themed casino on the site of the short-lived Tally Ho Hotel near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Ave. The Aladdin featured a towering 184-foot sign topped with a gold fiberglass genie lamp covered in yellow incandescent bulbs, giving the lamp a truly magic glow. The Aladdin hosted Elvis Presley and his soon-to-be wife Priscilla as they tied the knot Vegas style in a private suite in 1967. The genie lamp was upgraded in 1976 when the Aladdin underwent a major renovation that included a new sliver lamp trimmed in yellow neon. Both lamps are on display in The Neon Museum Boneyard.
The Aladdin closed in 2007 to make way for Planet Hollywood, a resort and casino themed to match the popular franchise of celebrity memorabilia focused restaurants of the same name.
Dunes Hotel and Casino (1955-1993) | Bellagio Resort (1998-Present)
Dunes Hotel and Casino, 1966. Las Vegas News Bureau
The Dunes Hotel and Casino opened their doors in 1955, complete with a 30-foot-high Sultan statue above the porte cochère. The Dunes was one of many properties at the time that took its design inspiration from the much fabled and fantasied Middle East. A 1964 renovation saw the construction of a 181-foot freestanding neon sign in the shape of a minaret (a tower often seen in Muslim places of worship from which the daily prayers are announced). The curves of the top of the sign are also similar to a spade from a pack of playing cards. The sign featured 16,000 feet of red and blue neon tubing and 7,200 incandescent light bulbs.
The sign was demolished, along with the property in 1993 making way for the Bellagio which opened in 1998.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (1995- 2020) | Virgin Hotels (2021-Present)
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 1995. Las Vegas News Bureau
Located at the corner of Harmon Ave. and Paradise Road, a mile east of the Las Vegas Strip, the Hard Rock Cafe opened in 1990. The sign on display at the restaurant was modeled after a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar played by Pete Townshend of The Who, it stood for 26 years before being taken down in 2017.
The restored sign consists of approximately ¾ of a mile of neon tubing. The Hard Rock Café guitar restoration was made possible by generous donors from around the world. The guitar sign is on loan from Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO), who performed the restoration of the iconic sign. The Hard Rock Casino (also located at the same location and opened in 1995) also had its own extravagant neon guitar sign, closed in 2020 and the Virgin Hotel later opened in its place in 2021. The gaming floor of the Virgin Hotel is managed by Mohegan Sun Casino, an affiliate of the Mohegan Tribe, the first Native American tribe to operate a Las Vegas casino.

 

Tropicana Hotel and Casino (1957-Present)
Tropicana Hotel and Casino, 1957. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Tropicana opened its doors in 1957 and advertisements heralded it as “the Tiffany of the Strip” to reflect the property’s opulence. The sprawling desert plot was decked out in a tropical style meant to emulate the finest hotels in Miami and Cuba, both popular tourist destinations of the time. The Neon Boneyard is home to letters from the Tropicana porte-cochere that were installed as part of a renovation of the property in 1978 and were designed by Jack Dubois and Raul Rodriguez. The letters can now be found on the patio hung above The Neon Museum Store.

 

Kids & Families

Learn more about STEAM Saturdays & Museums for All and download free sign-inspired coloring pages and printable at-home activities.

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Fremont Street

downtown las vegas gif

 Fremont Street, Downtown Las Vegas, 1960. Oceans 11, Warner Brothers

 

Fremont Street, the famously glowing thoroughfare that runs through the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, traces its origins to 1905. In its early days Fremont Street was home to a burgeoning business district brought about by the building of a train depot erected at Main and Fremont, where the Plaza Hotel and Casino now stands. The 1920s saw the nationwide prohibition of alcohol and later the onset of the Great Depression.   

Vegas’ proximity to the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931 meant big business for the growing community, and visitors flooded in to see the massive construction project. As luck would have it, 1931 also saw gambling become more widely legalized in the Silver State, while simultaneously laws connected to marriage and divorce were laxed making Nevada a popular destination for those looking to get hitched (or un-hitched) in a hurry.  

In 1933 Prohibition was repealed and made way for taverns and casinos to set up shop along Fremont Street, they built near the busy street to catch the interest of strolling sightseers. Neon signs took center stage in the late 1920s into the 1930s turning the dark desert into a glowing spectacle of light earning Fremont the nickname “Glitter Gulch.”  

While neon fell out of fashion in other parts of the US starting in the late 1960s, it thrived along Fremont Street; casino owners, sign designers and fabricators conspired to build iconic signs that reached high into the sky, towering above the visitors walking along the crowded sidewalks. The spectacle of these signs combined with the allure of clanging slot machines, comped drinks and free air conditioning beckoned visitors off the street and into the casinos.  

In an effort to revitalize downtown, in 1994 Fremont Street was closed to car traffic and converted into a pedestrian walkway complete with a canopy that provides shade during the day and an LED light show at night to more than 26 million visitors annually. The canopy also helps to protect noteworthy neon signs such as Vegas Vic, the neon cowboy who has been greeting visitors since 1951. The next time you are on Fremont Street stop by and say “Howdy” to this colossal cowpoke.  

 

 

Fremont Street Featured Properties

 

Las Vegas Railroad Depot (1905-1969) | The Plaza (1971-Present)

Las Vegas Railroad Depot, 1908. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

The intersection of Main and Fremont was home to Las Vegas’ first train station, built from a re-purposed train car in 1905. By 1906, the fully operational Spanish Mission-style train depot pictured here was erected to welcome passengers to the growing (but not yet glowing) city. The site would go on to become the home of the Union Plaza Hotel in 1971.

 

Las Vegas Club (1949-2015) | Circa Resort and Casino (2020-Present)

Las Vegas Club, 1949. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

The Las Vegas Club installed one of the first neon signs on Fremont Street in 1930 before relocating in 1949 to the northeast corner of Main and Fremont, the former site of the Overland Hotel. Its neon signage received a flashy overhaul the same year (pictured here).

The Las Vegas Club closed in 2015 making way for Circa, which opened in 2020.

 

Glitter Gulch (1980-2016) | Circa Resort and Casino (2020-Present)

Vegas Vickie, 1981. Las Vegas News Bureau

The home of famed neon cowgirl Vegas Vickie, Glitter Gulch opened in 1980. The property operated until 2016, when it was demolished to build Circa Resort and Casino, which opened in 2020. Vickie was restored and relocated inside Circa to keep her kicking for years to come.

 

Golden Nugget (1946-Present)

Golden Nugget Gambling Hall, 1963. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

The Golden Nugget opened in 1946, and received a major neon facelift in 1961 when YESCO sign designer Kermit Wayne wrapped the exterior in glowing neon tubes to create the large “bull nose” sign at the corner of 2nd and Fremont. The “1905” bull nose on display in the Neon Boneyard actually dates to a casino expansion in 1971. All neon was removed from the façade of the casino as part of a remodeling project by Steve Wynn in 1984.

 

Binion’s Horseshoe  (1951- 2005) | Binion’s (1951- Present)

Horseshoe Hotel and Casino, c. 1960s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

Binion’s Horseshoe began operation in 1951. The 1961 exterior re-design by YESCO designers resulted in one of the largest displays of neon in the world, complete with rotating horseshoes and a three-story “H Wall.” Examples of both are on display in the Neon Boneyard. The property shortened its name to “Binion’s” in 2004. Many of the original neon elements found in the 1961 re-design can be seen on Fremont Street today.

 

The Pioneer Club (1942-1995) | Vegas Vic (1951-Present)

The Pioneer Club, c. 1950s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

The Pioneer Club was built in 1942 and changed its footprint along Fremont Street many times over the years. But it is best remembered for the iconic neon cowboy Vegas Vic, which was added to the exterior of the building in 1951. While the casino closed in 1995, Vic himself has remained as a timeless reminder of the glory days of “Glitter Gulch.”

 

Fitzgeralds (1987-2012) | The D (2012-Present)

Fitzgerald’s, 2008. Las Vegas News Bureau

Fitzgeralds opened on the site of the former Sundance Casino in 1987. Following Fitzgeralds’ 2001 bankruptcy, the property was purchased by Don Barden, an African American casino owner based in Gary, Indiana. Barden became the first Black casino owner in Downtown Las Vegas. Following Barden’s death in 2011, the property was purchased by Derek Stevens, who opened the space as “The D” in 2012.

 

 El Cortez (1941-Present)

El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 1958. Las Vegas News Bureau

The El Cortez opened in 1941, becoming Downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort. In 1945, the El Cortez was sold to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his associates, and used for training employees at the soon-to-be-opened Flamingo Hotel. In 1946, the property was sold again. In 1952, the El Cortez installed its neon arrow, marquee and scaffold-style roof sign – which is still on display today.

 

 

 

 

Resources

Education and Engagement at The Neon Museum not only includes tours, but also includes interpretive programs, drop-in family programs, artist residencies, lectures and panel discussions.

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Artists in Residence

The Neon Museum National Artist Residency (AIR) is designed to expand the interpretive potential of the collection while providing artists the opportunity to create new work in an unconventional setting.

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