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The Neon Museum helped to save the iconic signs that originally created the captivating worldwide image of Las Vegas.
It's where you'll discover some of the most unique artifacts of our city's history and just as importantly, the fascinating history behind it all.
It was many moons ago when I left home and moved to Las Vegas.
As a teen with an adventurous soul, I hopped on a Greyhound Bus for the three day ride out west and it was quite a ride I must say.
On our approach to a mountain pass at night, our bus driver announced that soon we would be seeing the lights of Las Vegas.
As we hit the top of that pass I could see the bright lights of the city in a valley of darkness … an incredible sight I'll never forget. The bus driver then announced that we would be driving down the world famous Las Vegas Strip and then on to Downtown Fremont street.
He drove in on Tropicana Avenue, which at that time was basically the start of the south end of the Strip, then turned north on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Back then no other place in the country had the incredible designs and amounts of neon, lights and signs that the Strip had ... and that's still true today.
It was a fantastical end to my travels and awesome beginning of what has become a lifetime journey here.
As we got downtown, the packed clusters of lights were unbelievable at first sight. You could easily read a book in the middle of the street downtown and it gave you a fantasy land feeling unlike anything else.
For me, the most incredible and beautiful sign of them all was the Stardust sign. The pic below is before the blue and green colors cycled in.
For scale, at the very bottom of the pic is light reflections on the windshields of cars parked out in front.
Seeing this sign for the first time I was transfixed. I had never seen one that big and that beautiful, and I always felt that way about their sign.
Every chance I got while going by it, I'd watch it go through its full cycle which culminated in hundreds of colored lights flashing and twinkling just like stardust.
You'll see chunks of that sign that now reside only at the Neon Museum.
For many years these signs just sat in an outdoor storage area of the Young Electric Sign company - YESCO, in their boneyard slowly fading away and deteriorating in the desert.
Due to the creation of the non-profit Neon Museum the signs from that boneyard were saved and preserved or restored as the priceless historical pieces that they are.
For myself and other locals this place is bittersweet as we remember those days when most all these signs were alive and shining bright in their places.
You may not think all that much about just seeing some old cool signs but that really is only half of the story. The rest is what you’ll get in your one hour tour with their tour guide.
The tour guides at the Neon Museum fill you in on all the backstories behind the signs, which is where the interesting and rich historical segments on Las Vegas comes in. That’s the key part of these tours.
An example of that is the Visitors Center, which is housed in the lobby of La Concha Motel. It was carefully deconstructed and painstakingly moved here and like many other artifacts at this museum, has a unique past.
It was designed by Paul Revere Williams, one of America's first prominent African American architects. Based in L.A., he designed homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney and others.
A few of his prolific and varied public works included the first A.M.E church of L.A., the Beverly Hills Hotel and LAX Theme building. La Concha's design was a niche but culturally pop style during its day called Googie style.
The owner of the popular motel at the time, M.K. Doumani, wanted a unique design to stand out from the larger hotels on the Strip and he got it.
It still stands as probably the most creative smaller structures ever made for a property on the Strip. Not only for looks, but also for difficulty in structurally achieving.
Nowadays, in that clam shaped lobby you'll find all kinds of interesting displays, photo’s and historical pieces as well as throughout the other parts of the Museum.
I use to see that funky clam shaped lobby all the time when I use to visit my aunt at her beauty shop at the El Morocco, which was right next to La Concha.
For years I had no inkling of its history, but it always stood out and was a landmark that I and everyone else knew and used to describe to others on how to get to one place or another.
It amazes me today how much of this kinda of stuff we took for granted, but we were simply surrounded by so much unique stuff that it just got to be a normal part of living here for so long.
There have been a number of unusual Strip motels from the 50’s and 60’s which haven't survived, but I was really glad to see the La Concha lobby saved as part of our unique history.
Simply put, these are extraordinary pieces of history I feel very fortunate to of experienced as glimmering art and a natural part of our landscape for years and years. I also feel fortunate I can go visit these ole’ friends whenever I want to take a stroll down memory lane.
The Neon Museum is a fascinating and easy excursion to add to your visit here in Vegas, since it’s only an hour tour and very easy to fit into any schedule.
For all these reasons is why I highly recommend visiting the Museum. Come out to see and learn how these historical gems helped shape the image of one of the most unique cities in the world.
If you’ve been wanting to do Downtown, the Neon Museum is a great spot to visit while there either before or after dark, as they also have night tours where they light up seven or so of their major signs for that tour.
I don't recommend walking to the Neon Museum from downtown. The area in between it and downtown isn't the best.
A great way to do Downtown that can save you a little money is by buying a combo for both the Neon and Mob Museums.
You can visit the Neon Museum, then have lunch anywhere downtown since there's a slew of options for a good deal on a great meal.
Afterwards you can walk over to the Mob Museum and then back, since it's so close to Fremont St., then hit the nightlife at the Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East.
Be aware if you have young children with you that a few of the 'street entertainers' on Fremont Street can get a little racy or raunchy. It's geared for adult entertainment and might be a little too 'R' rated than you might want your kids to be around.
The night tours are popular, especially in the summer and will sell out in advance, so if you’re planning on that be sure to book early for it. They have free parking adjacent to the Museum off of E. McWilliams Ave.
If you want to do Downtown but don't have a car while here, check out the other options for doing that on my Getting around Las Vegas page.
If you plan on bringing children with you, you need to be careful with them because as prominently stated by the Museum, the yard does have broken glass and rusty metal parts still exposed that could pose a danger.
To get to the Neon Museum if staying on the Strip, you can catch I-15 north, connect to 95/93 heading East into Downtown. Exit on N. Las Vegas Blvd and turn left, heading north. It will be about half a mile up on your right, just past Bonanza Road.
If you want to see a few sights on the way there, simply travel up Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip) into Downtown. You'll pass the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed a little past Sahara, but it's more of a curiosity than anything to see from the street.
You'll travel under the 95 and just past Bonanza Road, you'll see it on your right.
If you're Downtown, make your way to Las Vegas Blvd., turn left heading north, under the 95 overpass and just past Bonanza Road, you'll see it on your right.
At times, our desert weather may force cancellations of tours, so be sure to visit the Neon Museum website for info on that or any other considerations.
The Neon Museum address is 770 North Las Vegas Boulevard and is located just north of the Downtown casino corridor.