Of all the things to see and do in Las Vegas, going to a museum is probably not what springs to mind. But if you go to Vegas and you leave without paying a visit to The Neon Boneyard, you’ll have missed out on something truly special. The Neon Boneyard forms part of The Neon Museum, and it is an exhibition like no other.
The Boneyard is home to hundreds of vintage neon signs that have all played an important role in the history of the bright lights of Vegas. Walking through the Boneyard is like taking a trip back in time to the early days of Vegas when the likes of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack were blazing a trail. Each sign is a piece of art in its own right, but together, these signs tell a story. And if you look at some of the most popular casino sites, you’ll see that many of the designs have been inspired by iconic Las Vegas neon magic. These signs didn’t just light up the boulevards, they formed a massive part of Las Vegas’s personality and charisma.
Young Electric Sign Company
The Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) is the company responsible for creating many of the signs that now form part of the exhibit. The Neon Boneyard was originally just a storage yard in Vegas where disused YESCO signs were left to die. In 1996, The Neon Museum was founded in order to protect and preserve these iconic signs for ‘‘educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment’’ and YESCO donated all of their relics to the museum. The museum is now made up of the Neon Boneyard Main Collection, the Neon Boneyard North Gallery, and the Visitors Centre, which lies within the former lobby of La Concha Motel.
Best Time to Visit
It’s best to visit the Main Boneyard in the evening if you want to experience it in all its dazzlingly kitsch glory. Many of the signs have been restored and are lit up at all times, other signs are unrestored and so lit from ground lighting. So beautifully laid out are the signs that the Boneyard has become somewhat of a mecca for special events, such as weddings, parties, photoshoots, and educational outings.
Signs to See
As you meander your way through The Neon Boneyards’ many pathways, you’ll come across a veritable feast of incredible signage. You’ll find the Silver Slipper, the Golden Nugget, and Binion’s Horseshoe. You’ll be thrilled to see the original lamp from Aladdin Casino, as well as a Hard Rock Café guitar, and the incredible Stardust sign (both of which have been restored). The Boneyard is also home to a Moulin Rouge, an early Caesars Palace, a Riviera, and a huge skull from The Treasure Island Casino.
Take the Tour
The museum runs tours of The Neon Boneyard seven days per week, and you’ll need to reserve your place online beforehand. The signs have not been laid out in a haphazard way. Each sign has been thoughtfully placed in order to help tell the story of Vegas. Your expert guide will explain the history and significance of each work of art, while you marvel at the artistry. You’ll find out the story of the artist who made each sign; what inspired the piece; and how the piece was made. It’s actually not possible to wander around the Boneyard without a guide. The museum is strict about this rule, and even if you need to leave midway through the tour, you’ll have to wait for a member of staff to escort you.
Check out the Hype
Funding for The Neon Museum has come from government organisations, corporate sponsors and the private sector donations. The museum is also responsible for maintaining the existing signage on the strip, including the iconic ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign designed by Betty Willis. Their efforts have been recognised and praised across the board. USA Today featured The Neon Boneyard in their 10Best; Forbes hailed it as “One of the Top 10 Coolest Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do”, and VactionIdea.com has it as one of their ’15 Most Fascinating Museums in the US’.