Neon Baby!

A sign from the Golden Nugget, which was taken down when Steve Wynne renovated the casino.

We’ve recently returned from Las Vegas, where we visited one of the coolest institutions in the world: The Neon Museum, located on the far northern end of The Strip. The museum, about to celebrate its 15th anniversary, and ready to open its new visitors center next year (a rehab of the swooping, Paul Williams-designed La Concha Hotel), features a beautiful jumble of over 150 old signs that tell the story of Vegas, from mobster Bugsy Siegal’s El Cortes Hotel and Casino to the Moulin Rouge, Vegas’ first integrated casino, to the Atomic Age Stardust.

The signs, scattered around the museum’s “boneyard” in rough chronological order,  also reveal the rich history of sign-making talent in the city, from companies like the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) and designers like Betty Willis, who designed the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” marqee. As Robert Venturi reminded us, the city has influenced much of our country’s roadside aesthetic.  Here’s a small sampling of what we saw. Enjoy! (Photos Courtesy Neon Museum)

The Horseshoe was owned by mobster/tough guy Benny Binion, who thought of the idea of serving alcohol at gaming tables, among other things.

The Lido was Vegas' first topless show.

This free-standing sign was known as the "Mullet Man."

Signs from many of Vegas' roadside motels.

The Stardust, with its "Atomic Font", was part of a 60's rage for all things futuristic.

Paul Williams' La Concha Motel will be converted into the museum's visitors center by 2012. The designers of that project are West Star Architects.

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