The lamp from Aladdin in Las Vegas, now seen at the city's Neon Museum. Image courtesy of The Neon Museum, Inc. Copyright held by The Neon Museum, Inc.
Utah's own Young Electric Sign Company made itself the top dog in neon electric signs over three generations of family business. We wrote about it in the Electric Slide story in our current issue, which is on newsstands now.
Nowhere is the company's influence more apparent than Las Vegas, Nevada.
The company, which opened a Vegas plant nearly four decades ago, is responsible for the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign tourists see driving into town and New York-New York's 220-foot marquee.
Of course, YESCO's Las Vegas signs have also been taken down when owners close up shop or replace them. So, what happens to the decommissioned signs that once lit up the street near Caesar's Palace, Sahara, Golden Nugget and Aladdin? Many end up at the Neon Museum's exhibition space, known as the Neon Boneyard. The museum, which started in 1996, opened a visitors' center last fall. This summer, they are expecting more visitors than ever.
Salt Lake magazine chatted with Neon Museum Executive Director, Danielle Kelly, about the museum and its ties to YESCO.
First of all, where do you get all of these signs?
“Sometimes it's just a sign we will have kept our eye on for a long time, knowing it's potentially in danger. Sometimes a business owner is selling the property or tearing down a property . . . and they value the history of their project and want to make sure the story is still there to be told. Sometimes, it's a situation where an organization like YESCO helps facilitate an acquisition of a sign.”
Tell us about a sign YESCO helped you get for the museum.
“One example, on a smaller scale, would be the Yucca Motel sign. It's truly one of the most spectacular signs in our collection, and it sat on Las Vegas Boulevard . . . That was a sign we'd been watching for a while, and I'll never forget I was at the bank and got a call from someone at YESCO. And they said, 'I've got something you might be interested in,' and it was the Yucca Motel. I said, 'Oh my God, thank you!' and YESCO facilitated a personal introduction with the owner and the owner's son.”
So you keep a close watch on a lot of signs in the Las Vegas area?
“The last thing we want is for a sign to come down. We want the sign to stay up. We want them to remain, but if it's under the nature of being demolished, if it's coming down, we want to be there to catch it.”
At the museum, are the signs restored or lit up?
“A visitor experiences the signs in the way we take them in. Sometimes they look brand new, sometimes they don't, sometimes they have not aged well, sometimes they are rusted and the paint is peeling, but that's kind of what's magical about the experience of seeing them. It's like an archeological ruin in a way—only it's pop culture. Now, that's not exclusive. There are signs we restore. There are several in the Neon Boneyard that are restored and there's an entire arm of the Neon Museum project that is driven by restoration.”
Tell us about the big restoration project you're working on.
“We have 15 signs, currently, that are restored as public art and installed throughout downtown Las Vegas on mediums on Las Vegas Boulevard. And right now, it's about four blocks long . . . It's an ongoing partnership with the city of Las Vegas.”
And are those signs you're putting on Las Vegas Boulevard electrified?
“Abolutely, they are restored and electrified. The idea with them being on Las Vegas Boulevard is to experience them the way they were originally intended—driving downt he street in your car . . . We also worked to have that designated as a federal scenic byway and were successful in that.”
Any YESCO signs involved in this project?
“There are some YESCO signs there. The most famous of which would have to be the Silver Slipper, and that's directly in front of the Neon Museum.”
Can the public see any restored YESCO signs in the boneyard?
“There are two signs in the boneyard exhibition space that are restored by YESCO. One of them is the original La Concha sign. The other is what we call the repeating H wall from Binion's Horseshoe.
The restored La Concha sign at the Neon Museum. Image courtesy of The Neon Museum, Inc. Copyright held by The Neon Museum, Inc.
H wall from Binion's Horseshoe. Image courtesy of The Neon Museum, Inc. Copyright held by The Neon Museum, Inc.
How many signs do you have total?
“We have an excess of 150 signs and over 450 individual pieces. When I refer to pieces, an example is the Stardust, which can be broken up into nine pieces or individual elements.”
And how many of those are YESCO signs?
“They really gave us some core signs that formed the core of our collection. You need a little snowball to make a big snowball, and the heart of it came from YESCO.”
Do you only take signs from Las Vegas?
“We focus on Southern Nevada and Las Vegas specifically. We have one sign not from Las Vegas or Southern Nevada. It is the China Garden Cafe sign from Cedar City. And it is a YESCO sign.”
China Garden Grill sign from Cedar City, now at the Neon Museum. Image courtesy of The Neon Museum, Inc. Copyright held by The Neon Museum, Inc.
The Neon Museum is located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, Nevada.
This Valentine's Day, the Neon Museum is holding a “walk-thru” wedding event for couples. They will honor Women's History Month in March by paying tribute to Las Vegas' historical women, and they are currently planning events for Nevada History Month in May.