October 03, 2011

Photo Essay: Neon Boneyard, Vegas

I'm probably the only person who visits the boneyard at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas and gets really sad.

It's a junkyard of sorts - broken glass everywhere, rusted metal - where (mostly) neon signs take their final resting place, waiting to be either reincarnated or brought back to life through expensive restoration.

Letters and light bulbs are missing. Some lie on their sides, propped up against each other...

It's also somewhat of a hall of fame for the hotels, casinos, gambling halls, restaurants, and other businesses of the much-heralded "Old Vegas" - the days of the Rat Pack, strip clubs, and prostitution, and in some cases, the days before air conditioning.

Some of the signs there are from businesses that are still standing - the Flamingo, Fitzgerald's - but have just upgraded their signs.

But many are from places long-gone...

With the advent of fluorescent and LED lights, neon has become a lost - and expensive - art. These days you wouldn't find an intricate two-sided duckie sign welcoming you to (just) a car wash.

Interestingly, the boneyard has begun to collect relics and ephemera from the more recent casinos less associated with neon signs, like one of the giant skulls from the old Treasure Island hotel & casino (before it was known as "TI," in its days themed more like Pirates of the Caribbean). I always said I didn't like Vegas much because it had transformed into some odd version of Epcot where everything was a reproduction of something else - New York New York, Paris, Circus Circus, Excalibur - but after walking through the boneyard, I realize now that that's what Vegas has always been. The themes might have evolved over time - especially into the faux riche over-opulence of Caesar's Palace, Bellagio, Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn - but throughout the 20th Century, people came to the middle of the desert from all over to experience the Sahara Desert, the Frontier of the Old West, the Alps, the Moulin Rouge...

And those that stand there today may fall out of fashion in 20 years, be remodeled, redesigned, or altogether imploded, like many casinos before them (unfortunately many with their neon signs still lit, and lost forever).

I first visited Vegas in the late 90s after college, when many of the historic casinos - the (New) Frontier, Desert Inn, Stardust - were still standing. I didn't know I had to go see them then. I didn't know they wouldn't be around forever.

Now, all I can do, is visit a graveyard, where their signs serve as their own headstones.

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1 comment:

  1. At least you get to see Las Vegas in a different light. These discarded signboards make up much of the colorful attractions around Las Vegas.