58°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Yesco celebrates 100 years of creating Las Vegas’ most iconic signs

Updated March 13, 2020 - 4:14 pm

Charlie Rundquist remembers how, as a young child, his father would put him in the backseat of his Kaiser and cruise down the Strip or Fremont Street to look at the neon lights and glittering signs of the city’s skyline.

His father would stare at the lights, too. Not in youthful admiration, but to scrutinize signs where a bulb had burst or a light was out or the neon had tarnished.

The weekly field trips for Rundquist were sign patrol assignments for his father, who worked for Yesco, then called the Young Electric Sign Company.

The company is responsible for most of the neon and LED signs in Las Vegas, including Vegas Vic, the Silver Slipper, several panoramic video screens on Las Vegas Boulevard and the newly installed letters on Allegiant Stadium. On Friday, the company will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The neon Silver Slipper is seen just west of the Neon Museum Boneyard in Las Vegas on Wednesday ...
The neon Silver Slipper is seen just west of the Neon Museum Boneyard in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @EliPagePhoto

Neon runs in the family

Rundquist remembers visiting his father at work and watching him extend narrow tubes of glass over fire until they became slack, then manipulating them into coiled and curling shapes to be filled with mercury and phosphorus and neon or argon gases.

“I thought it looked fun and exciting,” Rundquist remembers. “His friends all worked there. I thought, ‘I want to work there when I grow up.’”

A neon unit seems in the glass room at Yesco in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Elizabet ...
A neon unit seems in the glass room at Yesco in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @EliPagePhoto

Rundquist started working in Yesco’s maintenance department in 1974 and, when it was his turn to go on sign patrol, he would load his own kids into the backseat, stop to get them an ice cream cone and then drive along the Strip, down Fremont Street, through commercial centers and strip malls, scrutinizing the signs’ quality while his kids enjoyed a special night out.

Rundquist worked in Yesco’s maintenance department until 1978. He left to work for his father-in-law but has been back at the company for 20 years, working now as electric service manager alongside his son and his great-grandson’s father.

Charlie Rundquist is Yesco's electric service supervisor in Las Vegas. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/ ...
Charlie Rundquist is Yesco's electric service supervisor in Las Vegas. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @EliPagePhoto

He’s serviced some of the city’s most iconic signs, such as the Golden Goose and Betty Willis’ “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign as well as the Strip’s more modern signs, like the massive video screens in front of the Palms, Aria and the Forum Shops at Caesars.

All that glitters

Rob McCoy, president and CEO of the Neon Museum, estimates that more than half of the museum’s collection was produced by Yesco.

The Hard Rock Cafe Guitar Sign is illuminated for the first time in public during a special eve ...
The Hard Rock Cafe Guitar Sign is illuminated for the first time in public during a special event at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas on Monday, March 4, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Born and raised in Las Vegas, he relates to the art form in the same way that Rundquist does.

“I have very fond memories of my parents throwing us in the car on Saturday nights and driving down the Strip or Fremont Street,” he says. “All these decades later, I’m in charge of the collection.”

Since the sign company pioneered the use of neon signage on Las Vegas’ Boulder Club in the 1930s, Yesco has developed much of the iconography that has created the image of Las Vegas.

The Western neon of Old Vegas, the strobing flashbulbs of the mid-20th-century Strip and the casino-wrapped video screens that illuminate today’s casinos were all developed, at least in part, by Yesco’s sign makers.

harmon

“I think neon defined us as a place to visit,” McCoy says. “People around the world have this romantic image of Las Vegas with neon blazing, and I think without neon signs, we never would have earned the reputation we have now.”

Origin story

Over a century before Las Vegas’ skyline was bedazzled in neon and light bulbs, 15-year-old Thomas Young immigrated with his family from England to Utah in search of work in 1910.

Thomas Young in his shop. (Yesco)
Thomas Young in his shop. (Yesco)

He served an apprenticeship under a number of sign-writers and learned the art of hand-lettering, eventually earning a diploma from the Detroit School of Lettering and working in electric sign construction, according to “A Legacy of Light: The History of Young Electric Sign Company.”

“He came to the U.S. when he was 15,” says Jeffrey Young, senior vice president of Yesco and grandson of Thomas Sr. “In 1920, he was ready to start a business and he asked his father for a loan of $300.”

Argon gas lights up a glass tube shown by Yesco's senior vice president Jeff Young during a tou ...
Argon gas lights up a glass tube shown by Yesco's senior vice president Jeff Young during a tour at YESCO in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @EliPagePhoto

In the early 1930s, Yesco became one of the first companies to create signs using neon.

“He visited Las Vegas and was staying at the El Cortez,” Jeffrey Young says. “As the legend goes, while in his hotel room, he sketched out a sign on a piece of butcher paper for the Boulder Club. He brought it over to the Boulder Club and they asked him to build it immediately.”

In 1945, Yesco opened a manufacturing location in Las Vegas and went on to create spectacular neon displays for old Vegas mainstays.

The Mint in downtown Las Vegas (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Mint in downtown Las Vegas (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“He started selling signs in Las Vegas in the early days, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s with the Boulder Club, the Pioneer Club, Vegas Vic, all the way forward to The Mint and forward to now,” Young says. “Tom Sr. really set in motion all of what visually has become Vegas today. Without Tom Sr., I think Las Vegas would’ve been a different place.”

Jack Larsen Sr.

After leaving his animation career at Disney, where he helped animate movies such as “Bambi” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Yesco sign designer Jack Larsen designed some of Las Vegas’ most memorable signs, such as the lamp at the Aladdin, the Golden Goose and the high-heel pump that used to spin outside of the Silver Slipper.

Administrative assistant for Yesco Karin Tomanio stands next to a photograph of her grandfather ...
Administrative assistant for Yesco Karin Tomanio stands next to a photograph of her grandfather Jack Larsen with the iconic heel that he designed for YESCO, photographed for the company's upcoming 100th anniversary, at YESCO in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @EliPagePhoto

“He was trying to find a nice shoe to model the Silver Slipper after,” his granddaughter Karin Tomanio says. “My mother was leaving the house one night for a date and he stopped her and told her to take her shoe off so he could draw it.”

Larsen mimicked the look of the high-heel pump for the design, which now revolves on Las Vegas Boulevard, in front of the Neon Museum.

Rudy Crisostomo

Before the advent of computer animation, Rudy Crisostomo used paint and ink to render his mock-ups for the signs at Circus Circus, the New York-New York’s porte cocheres and the Binion’s horseshoe.

Kim Bavington's father Rudy Crisostomo hand-rendered early drafts of Las Vegas Yesco signs. (Ja ...
Kim Bavington's father Rudy Crisostomo hand-rendered early drafts of Las Vegas Yesco signs. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)

While the final designs now belong to the properties he sold them to, his daughter, Kim Bavington, still owns dozens of his earlier drafts for the signs that could have been.

Contact Janna Karel at jkarel@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3835. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Caesars furloughing about 90% of US workers
The furloughs come amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted all U.S. commercial casinos to temporarily shut their doors.
Bill Withers, soul legend and 'Lean on Me' singer, dead at 81 - VIDEO
Bill Withers' family said he died of heart complications on Monday in Los Angeles. Withers was a three-time Grammy winner. His other major hits include “Ain’t No Sunshine" and “Lovely Day.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas KatsWalk: From the Mandalay Bay to Excalibur - VIDEO
Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes walks and talks along the Las Vegas Strip, from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur. (John Katsilometes and Kevin Cannon / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Make Ivan Grant's Quarantini - VIDEO
Ivan Grant, a flair bartender at Long Bar at The D Las Vegas, makes his Quarantini. (Ivan Grant)
Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger dies from coronavirus - VIDEO
According to Variety, 52-year-old frontman and songwriter Adam Schlesinger has died, following a short battle with the respiratory illness, coronavirus. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
KATS WALK: A walking tour on south Las Vegas Strip – VIDEO
RJ columnist John Katsiometes takes a walking tour of the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. (John Katsiometes and Kevin Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tiger King character has Las Vegas connection - VIDEO
Entertainment reporter John Katsilometes talks about the popular "Tiger King" and Jeff Lowe, a central figure in the Netflix documentary phenomenon who wanted to do business with the last Las Vegas Strip entertainer to use wild tigers in his act. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Coranavirus victim Howard Berman playing the harmonica in April 2014 - VIDEO
Howard Berman, 66, playing the harmonica at a jam session in April 2014. Berman, who was active in the Las Vegas music community, died on March 24, 2020, from COVID-19. (Diana Andriola)
Boarded-up businesses in the Arts District add some color - VIDEO
Businesses in the Arts District have commissioned local artists to paint murals on the boards covering their doors and windows. When the boards are removed, they will be auctioned off to raise money for those affected by the coronavirus shutdowns. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival still scheduled for May - VIDEO
In a post on his social media platforms, festival founder Pasquale Rotella confirmed that EDC remains scheduled for May 15-17 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway despite coronavirus concerns that have sideline scads of other live music events. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
City of Las Vegas responds to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup
Alcohol is now allowed in curbside meal pickups in Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas has responded to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup service to include alcohol in those meals. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lady Gaga delays new album release - VIDEO
The pop star was planning to drop her sixth LP, "Chromatica," on April 10, but she's made the "tough decision" to push back the launch following the coronavirus outbreak. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ways to keep yourself from going crazy at home during coronavirus - VIDEO
Take art classes with your kids. Install a bidet. Practice yoga. Buy houseplants. Catch up your streaming queue. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas nightclub giant Hakkasan Group lays off 1,600 - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Strip’s leading nightlife company has let go of nearly its entire workforce, leaving about 1,600 staffers suddenly unemployed, due to the shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Disneyland closes in response to coronavirus - VIDEO
Walt Disney Company announced the closure of its Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, on Thursday afternoon. Known as the "happiest place on earth," Disneyland has closed its doors only three other times in 65 years. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts to temporarily close buffets amid coronavirus fears - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International will temporarily close its Las Vegas buffets, effective Sunday amid growing coronavirus fears. (Al Mancini and James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morimoto tackles Italian cooking at Eataly Las Vegas
Masaharu Morimoto showed off his skills in a slightly different context Thursday night, when he dropped by Manzo in Eataly to launch the Italian restaurant’s new Guest Chef series. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator leaving Mirage on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
The 11-year Las Vegas Strip headliner is on a venue hunt, confirming Wednesday he is leaving his eponymous theater at The Mirage this summer for parts uncharted. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Garth Brooks to play first concert at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
Country megastar Garth Brooks is the first non-football event announced for the $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Post Malone reveals his face tattoos are due to being 'ugly' - VIDEO
In a new interview with 'GQ,' the 24-year-old admitted his body art is linked to insecurity issues. [The face tattoos do] maybe come from a place of insecurity, to where I don’t like how I look .., Post Malone, via 'GQ'. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 Las Vegas chefs to watch - VIDEO
If you want to know what’s next for dining in Las Vegas, we suggest paying close attention to these five accomplished chefs. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Slanted Door in The Forum Shops at Caesars - VIDEO
The Slanted Door, Charles Phan's James Beard Award-winning modern Vietnamese restaurant, will open a Las Vegas location on March 2. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas REview-Journal)
Buddy V opens PizzaCake at Harrah’s - VIDEO
Buddy Valastro, aka Cake Boss Buddy V, is in town this week overseeing the soft opening of his new restaurant, PizzaCake, in Harrah’s Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making mist-shrouded tuna poke at Marssa at the Westin Lake Las Vegas - VIDEO
E.J. Estrella, banquet chef at Marssa at the Westin Lake Las Vegas, makes tuna poke by mixing chunks of bigeye tuna with sliced green onions, julienned white onions and house-made poke sauce and serving it on a bed of seaweed salad garnished with lotus chips and suspended over melon-scented mist. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making baked goat cheese at Ri Ra in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Shea Wafford, sous chef and pastry chef at Ri Ra at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas, makes baked goat cheese served with honey-nut pesto, pickled red onions, peppadew relish and sourdough baguette. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bruce Kalman cooking at Ada’s - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Bruce Kalman will be cooking at Ada's in Tivoli Village in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making banana cream pie at Cut in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Nicole Earl, pastry chef at Cut at the Palazzo in Las Vegas, makes an updated banana cream pie by layering banana ice cream, custard and compote with house-made Cool Whip, vanilla wafers and 24-karat gold leaf in a milk chocolate sphere and drizzling it with warm banana-caramel sauce so it devolves into petals. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Chile Colorado at Kitchen Table and Kitchen Table Squared in Las Vegas
Javier Chavez, chef/owner of Kitchen Table and Kitchen Table Squared in Las Vegas, makes Chile Colorado by braising pork belly with three kinds of peppers and serving it atop stewed black beans with crema and pickled jalapeño, carrots and onions, with flour tortillas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Black Tap introduces its vegan CrazyShake - VIDEO
Black Tap at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip has a new CrazyShake that's vegan -- The Black ’N White CakeShake. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri reflects on the Las Vegas dining scene
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri talks about the Las Vegas food scene while in town celebrating his 52nd birthday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Massive Meow Wolf mural at Area15 takes root

The mural, which Las Vegas artist Eric Vozzola free-handed in collaboration with Meow Wolf, will welcome visitors into the otherworldly experience that the art collective is planning to open later this year.