Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Boneyard

I hope everyone is safe and warm today! We've been getting snow most of the day, and tonight it's supposed to get bone-chillingly cold...so I suppose it's a good time to write about the Boneyard!

I had a lot of great experiences during our short trip to Vegas, but I think I was most thrilled to get to tour the Boneyard. As I've mentioned previously, it's part of the Neon Museum, and it's where old signs go to retire. Not die, because the hope is that they will eventually be restored, and a dozen or so have been and reside downtown at the Fremont Street Experience.

The Boneyard is a 3-acre expanse of neon tubing, rusting metal, broken glass, and old signs piled on top of old signs. And oh yeah...it's WONDERFUL! It is available by appointment only, and I started trying back in the summer to see if I could get a tour time for us. It was questionable if they were going to be offering tours right after the New Year, but not too long before I left, I heard back from Erin, and she said that they were going to have tours available. Yippee!

Check out the picture: Ee-yo eleven! (Another chance for a gold star: what movie is that from?)

We rode the Blue Deuce down to Fremont Street and hiked a few blocks to the Neon Museum offices. I could see some of the signs poking up over the top of the fence that surrounds the Boneyard, and I was so excited. Our tour guide, a very knowledgeable and funny young man named Justin, walked us over to the Boneyard and unlocked the gates, and in we walked. Feel free to insert angelic choirs singing here, because that's how I felt. I know I'm kind of weird about signs, but Ken has been a good sport and indulges me in my urge to take pictures--or go to museums--of old signage. I can't explain it...I just think they're fascinating. In the case of the Boneyard, it's not just that there are classic examples of Googie signage, but it's also a bit of Vegas history.

That's where Justin came in. I sort of thought it was going to be a self-guided tour, where we just walked around and looked at and took pictures of the signs. After the tour, I understand why they can't do that, because there really is a lot of broken glass and rusty metal, and if people won't protect themselves, the Museum has to! Justin told us about some guy a few weeks ago who backed into a piece of broken neon tubing and had to go to the ER. Considering my natural klutziness, I was very careful. Anyhoo, Justin told us about restoration of the signs (it averages about $40,000 per sign), materials used, anecdotes about the Boneyard itself (lots of photo shoots and music videos are shot there), and historical facts about the casinos and places where the signs originated.

Vegas has been notorious for just imploding casinos and tearing things down in order to build anew (I'm talkin' to YOU, Steve Wynn!), so it's great to see people getting involved in historic preservation there. This is as fascinating a part of history as anything else in our country, with plenty of interesting tidbits. It's a shame that so many things perished before preservation really took hold in Vegas...I wonder what happened to the Sultan that stood astride the Dunes entrance, for example?

A short slideshow will follow, but I wanted to include a couple of photos first, with some comments.

Here's a closeup of my favorite sign at the Boneyard, the silver slipper from the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall. It's just so kitschy and cool! You can see a few intact light bulbs here, and every dot on the shoe contained a light bulb. Imagine what this baby looked like when it was all lit up!

No need to imagine--below is an old photo of how it looked in place. It didn't just light up...it rotated! I've read that after Howard Hughes bought the Frontier, across the street from the Silver Slipper, he'd stay in his room at the Frontier and the glow from the slipper just drove him crazy (well...craziER) and he decided to buy it so he could tear it down. (Sounds like Steve Wynn is channeling Howard Hughes. Apparently Wynn found the sign for the Frontier offensive, even though he can't see it...he had the place demolished and made no efforts to preserve the sign. The folks taking down the casino are friends of the Museum and brought parts of the sign over.) The Silver Slipper survived until the late 80's and then was demolished. The slipper itself made its way to the Boneyard, and Justin told us that it's one of the next in line for restoration. I think he said that it weighs a couple of tons, and will cost about $100,000 to restore.

The Neon Museum is a nonprofit organization, so all of their funding comes from whatever they charge for photo shoots and from private donations. If I won the lottery, I'd be paying for a sign or two! (I think I'd choose the Sweetheart Motel sign.) These may look like junk to some, but to me they are bright and shiny pieces of history. Many of them were made by Young Electric Sign Company, or YESCO, and they still make signs for various places in Vegas. I don't think the modern signs have quite as much character as the old signs, though, do you?

Steve was asking me how I found out about this. He said they were looking through a lot of information about Vegas and saw no mention of the Boneyard at all. I couldn't really remember, but I got several books about Vegas after our last trip, and I must have read about it there. I wasn't sure if anyone else in our group would enjoy this tour as much as I knew I would--have you noticed my obsession with signage? Ha! I think Ken has caught a little bit of my enthusiasm for this stuff over the years, so he enjoyed it, and I was so pleased when both Kim and Steve said that they really enjoyed it, and were happy that I was able to arrange a tour. I think that anyone interested in the history of a place like Vegas would enjoy this tour very much.

So the next time you're getting ready to go to Vegas, try to arrange a tour at the Boneyard. Tell 'em Beth sent you! I don't think you'll be disappointed. They are going to open a Visitors Center soon, and that's another cool thing--it's built with the facade of the salvaged lobby of the El Concha Motel. Justin said that it's one of the rare (did he maybe even say the only?) pieces of actual architecture that has been saved in Vegas. It's a gorgeous piece of Googie architecture, and it is in place at the Boneyard, although not yet open. I hope they can continue to grow their preservation efforts, and that people will pick up on the renewed interest in "old Vegas." (Justin told us that the Sahara is looking to get away at least a little bit from its NASCAR makeover, and go for more of a 60's style--SWEET!) I believe that most people are intrigued by old Vegas, and enjoy hearing about its history once someone takes the time to tell them about it. The Neon Museum can capitalize on that, and I hope the word gets out about them--I'll do my part! I'll look forward to our next visit so I can see the new Visitors Center, as well as that beautiful Silver Slipper, restored and dazzling!

Coming soon: downtown Vegas signage, and Fremont Street casinos...at night!

Here's the slideshow. Click on any picture to embigginate.


  1. Oh it is to be bone chilling here too. Down below 0 with the wind blowing they say. You do a great job of telling about your trip. Glad you enjoyed it so. 'On Ya'-ma

    Why is it called "Googie" signange and "Googie" architecture?

  3. SIGNS! I have my favorites. Years ago, in Times Square, there was a clothing store called BOND and there was a sign all across one whole block made of hundreds of light bulbs. The store closed and the building was split up and renovated, but they never took the bulbs down and until fairly recently you could see some of them behind the other facades. Up on 8th Avenue there used to be a tailor with a sign that read "Alterations done on the promises" (sic). Provincetown Mass. has a gay community in the summer. When you come into town there's a sign that reads "Provincetown either way." And here there's a sign on the entrance to the Elementary School playground that reads "No tresspassing after dark." D

  4. Embigginate??? LOL

    The tour and history was wonderful.

  5. Hi Beth,
    I think the Boneyard is fascinating ... will plan a visit when I get a chance.

  6. The Bone Yard must have been a hoot to visit. I especially love the Silver Slipper sign. Glad they are restoring some of them.
    Take Care.

  7. Just left you a LONG reply which has gone AWAL so another just to say that was wonderful I so enjoyed that trip to the boneyard.
    much Love Sybil xxx
    here I go again to try to get this posted

  8. I'm still anticipating a trip to the Boneyard some day, as well as to the Sign Museum. You know I love Googie. Wish all those signs were in their original locations rather than in museums, but that's better than being destroyed completely.

  9. It's sooooo cold here too. I know you all had such a good time!

  10. was Wynn the billionaire who was showing off some multi million $ painting to Barbara Walters or some other famous female and the painting got a hole in it?
    I could be VERY wrong but i THINK this Boneyard was in a CSI episode...i remember the episode well...do you watch CSI? They went to an old and abandoned casino and found a dead chick and went back many yrs....and i KNOW i saw gobs of signs from Vegas in a few scenes. This is a great entry...i enjoy reading about and seeing your sign obsession. XO

  11. The thing that I think is sooo cool about you and your 'signs' (not the bad movie, but the old vegas signs) is that Ken is growing into it as well!

    Gonna put it on my 'to do' list when I get out to Vegas again!

  12. Those old signs are great! thanks for turning us on to them.

  13. Enjoy your evening and stay warm!

  14. The Boneyard is so cool, Beth! This kind of things can be found in Vegas, I suppose. Never a dull moment. Thanks telling us about it. Make a note in my "Vegas Dreaming" - Notebook. Ciao. A.


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