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 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.