A photographic tour of the city’s technicolor graveyard
Epically scaled neon signs and letters loomed over us, competing for our attention like giant, candy-colored shrines to a city built on dreams and bent on continual reinvention.
I was so excited, I had to contain myself so I’d have a steady hand with which to compose my shots. The absence of a crowd made the experience even more surreal. There were five of us — me, the tour guide, and three other visitors — and we felt like survivors of an apocalypse, wandering through the remnants of a lost civilization. The guide explained the history of each monument at length, but I barely heard him; my camera was jammed to my face as I fired off shot after shot for the entire hour.
As a photographer, signage is one of my favorite subjects. So visiting The Neon Museum in Las Vegas— the only institution in the world dedicated to salvaging iconic examples of the genre—was like stepping into heaven.
The tour began inside the crown jewel of the museum’s collection: the lobby of the La Concha Motel, a 1960s building known for its then-futuristic, mid-century modern architecture.
La Concha shut down in 2003, and by 2006, the concrete shell of the lobby was the only remaining piece of the motel. Recognizing its significance, the building’s owners donated it to the museum, sparing it from certain demolition. It was carefully chopped up into eight pieces, transported by truck to the museum, and put back together again like an inside-out Humpty Dumpty at a cost of $8M USD.
Our guide, a bubbly, rotund man in hot pink sunglasses, materialized and we started off by passing through a narrow outdoor corridor underneath a section of the Binion’s Horseshoe sign — still in excellent condition, its metallic curves glistening in the Vegas sun.
I stood in awe, craning my neck to take in the entire thing. The other guests could tell I meant serious business and got out of my way as I centered myself perfectly with the sign, laid down on the dirt path, and started shooting. Meanwhile, the guide explained the rules, the most important of which was not to wander from the group. Damn.
Then, he led us into a vast open space called the “boneyard”: A six-acre maze of wide, winding paths lined with over 150 unrestored artifacts. A literally overwhelming amount of beautiful signage stood in every direction.
After decades open to the elements, the pieces still sparkled with color (I can’t imagine what they must’ve been like in their heyday). I barely knew where to point my camera, so I just snapped away, covering everything in sight.
Astonishingly, almost all of this was created by one corporation: the Young Electric Sign Company, also known as YESCO. These are the same people responsible for the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
Then, almost as soon as the tour had begun, it was over. I wanted to spend the rest of the day (or my life) here, doing whatever: playing hide and seek, drinking, getting some sun — but my begging and pleading fell on deaf ears, and we were promptly escorted back to the lobby.
If you ever visit Vegas, take a break from the slots and the shows to pay a visit to this truly unique attraction. From the retro-futuristic lobby to the towering neon monuments, my time there was unforgettable.
The Autograph Collection is part of the Marriott International portfolio.