How the Welcome to Las Vegas sign has changed over the years

The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign you see today isn’t exactly the original.

Perhaps that’s to be expected in a desert where violent winds and blistering sunlight can take a toll on any plastic, but it may surprise visitors who pose with one of the most photographed signs in the world.

First, some backstory: when it was erected in 1959, the sign was not immediately celebrated. The designer, Betty Willis, told the Review-Journal in 1998 that as the sign became outdated, she grew “squirmish” about how long it stayed up.

“Welcome to Las Vegas” sign designer Betty Willis poses with a photo of her sign in 2015. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

Clark County officials discussed tearing it down in the early 1970s, but locals objected. By the late ’90s the sign became stylish again. With the advent of digital cameras and the sign’s appearance on commemorative license plates, its fame took off and sign-related kitschy items became souvenirs.

In 2004, the Nevada Department of Transportation prompted people to photograph the sign from afar, saying that adding a crosswalk would make the site more dangerous.

“It would encourage more people,” Public Information Officer Bob McKenzie told Las Vegas CityLife. “It’s not a destination point where people should be going.”

The next year, The New York Times said that the sign surpassed “fur dice in the iconographic pantheon.”

Because the sign’s prominence is relatively recent, little history about it exists. Tracing its changes meant studying the handful of vintage public photographs that exist. The icon is barely (if at all) mentioned in local history books. Even the Review-Journal’s archive ignores it. The newspaper’s pages mentioned the sign only a few times a year until around 2001.

It may be simpler to start with what hasn’t changed. Young Electric Sign Co., which owns the landmark, said the metallic infrastructure – blue poles, red star, yellow frame, and seven silver dollars – is likely original.

What’s not as antique? The famed red, white and blue face.

In historic photos, the face appears pinstriped. That’s because the acrylic was corrugated to keep it rigid, YESCO’s senior vice president, Jeff Young, said.

On the original sign, the foot of the “F” was extended as well. (Willis said she never was satisfied with the handwritten “Fabulous” scrawl.)

The precise date of the sign’s first plastic surgery remains unclear; however, the stripes were gone by the time a 1978 photo was taken.

The sign was vandalized multiple times in 2009. Review-Journal file photo by John Gurzinski

Young told me he doesn’t know how many times the sign has been altered. The latest face transplant, he said, occurred circa 2009. On separate occasions, the sign was vandalized with a marker, splattered with paint and cracked by a rock. A new face proved the fastest fix after attempts at repairs.

He said he’s sure no one from YESCO took photos or videos of the transition.

“The county was very anxious about getting it done,” Young said. “There was a bit of a fervor.”

Another noticeable change to the sign involves YESCO’s logo.

When the sign was built, there was no trademark on its face. (YESCO acquired the sign in the early 1960s from Western Neon.)

A small, black YESCO logo appeared by 1998. Around 2010, the logo grew beyond its outline and changed to red. Six years later, the YESCO name moved to the right of the icon in a font three times as large.

Just because the logo changed doesn’t mean the sign got a new faceplate. Young said YESCO was careful about preserving the sign as much as possible.

Creative Commons video credit Kyle & Makenna Gott

I can’t help but wonder what became of the sign’s previous faces. They would undoubtedly be valuable collector’s items. Young said he’s sure the last version of the sign’s face was discarded. As for the original? Who knows.

One other perceptible change to the sign involves the electrical box and tubing which hug the left leg. Painted a matching blue, the box appeared by 2002. Today there are four boxes on the same leg, a noticeable metallic gray.

What other changes might the sign have seen? Perhaps its location. A Review-Journal article from 1998 stated that the sign moved south several times to remain on the outskirts. However, the sign’s 2009 registration form with the National Register of Historic Places stated “there have been reports that the sign was moved” but said there is no documentation of that with Clark County or YESCO.

Send your questions and feedback to hkeely@reviewjournal.com and follow me on Twitter: @HarrisonKeely.

 

ad-high_impact_4
Business
AGS partners with Vegas Golden Knights
AGS is the nation’s second-largest manufacturer of Class II slot machines used primarily in tribal jurisdictions. It announced a marketing partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lehman Brothers bet big on Las Vegas
Lehman Brothers collapsed 10 years ago, helping send the country into the Great Recession.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Ross & Snow launches in Las Vegas
Luxury shoe brand Ross & Snow has opened in Las Vegas, featuring "functional luxury" with premium shearling footwear. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remote Identification and Drones
DJI vice president of policy and public affairs discusses using remote identification on drones. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Drones and public safety in Nevada
Two representatives in the drone industry discuss UAV's impact on public safety. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Frontier Airlines to launch flights from Las Vegas to Mexico
Frontier, a Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier, will become the first airline in more than a decade to offer international service to Canada and Mexico from Las Vegas when flights to Cancun and Los Cabos begin Dec. 15. (Rick Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International opens the doors on MGM Springfield
Massachusetts’ first hotel-casino opens in downtown Springfield. The $960 million MGM Springfield has 252 rooms and 125,000-square-feet of casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International prepares to open MGM Springfield
Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International gave news media and invited guests a preview of the $960 million MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts. The commonwealth's first resort casino will open Friday, Aug. 24. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A Walk Through Circus Circus
It only takes a short walk through Circus Circus to realize it attracts a demographic like no other casino on the Strip: families with young children. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morphy Auctions, a vintage slot machines seller, wants gaming license
Vice president Don Grimmer talks about Morphy Auctions at the company's warehouse located at 4520 Arville Street in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. (Rick Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada's venture capital money doesn't stay in state
Zach Miles, associate vice president for economic development for UNLV, said there’s venture money in Southern Nevada, “but trying to find the right groups to tap into for that money is different.” According to a 2017 report from the Kauffman Foundation, Las Vegas ranked number 34 out of 40 metropolitan areas for growth entrepreneurship, a metric of how much startups grow. With a lack of growing startups in Las Vegas, investment money is being sent outside of state borders. The southwest region of the U.S. received $386 million in funding in the second quarter, with about $25.2 million in Nevada. The San Francisco area alone received about $5.6 billion. (source: CB Insights)
Neon wraps can light up the night for advertising
Vinyl wrap company 5150 Wraps talks about neon wraps, a new technology that the company believes can boost advertising at night. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nevada on the forefront of drone safety
Dr. Chris Walach, senior director of Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, talks to a reporter at NIAS's new Nevada Drone Center for Excellence of Public Safety, located inside the Switch Innevation Center in Las Vegas. K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
Motel 8 on south Strip will become site of hotel-casino
Israeli hoteliers Asher Gabay and Benny Zerah bought Motel 8 on the south Strip for $7.4 million, records show. They plan to bulldoze the property and build a hotel-casino. Motel 8 was built in the 1960s and used to be one of several roadside inns on what's now the south Strip. But it looks out of place today, dwarfed by the towering Mandalay Bay right across the street.
Project billed as one of the world's largest marijuana dispensaries plans to open Nov. 1
Planet 13 co-CEO Larry Scheffler talks about what to expect from the new marijuana dispensary, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Oasis Biotech opens in Las Vegas
Brock Leach, chief operating officer of Oasis Biotech, discusses the new plant factory at its grand opening on July 18. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Tech Park innovation building breaks ground
Construction on the first innovation building at the UNLV Tech Park is underway. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars Forum Meeting Center
Caesars broke ground Monday on its $375 million Caesars Forum Meeting Center (convention center) just east of the High Roller observation wheel. (Caesars Entertainment)
Technology reshapes the pawn shop industry
Devin Battersby attaches a black-colored device to the back of her iPhone and snaps several of the inside and outside of a Louis Vuitton wallet. The device, installed with artificial intelligence capabilities, analyzes the images using a patented microscopic technology. Within a few minutes, Battersby receives an answer on her app. The designer item is authentic.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Nevada for one year
Exhale Nevada CEO Pete Findley talks about the one year anniversary of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Young adults aren't saving for retirement
Financial advisors talk about saving trends among young adults. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like