The gentleman who commissioned the Hard Rock Cafe sign in Las Vegas said the sign satisfied some “pent-up, neon love.”
“In the 1980s, we started opening a whole lot of Hard Rock Cafes, but everywhere we went, neon was not allowed outside,” said Warwick Stone, known as “The Rock Collector” and former creative director of Hard Rock Cafe. “New Orleans? Neon not allowed. Honolulu? Neon not allowed. Maui? Neon not allowed.”
But when the rock ‘n’ roll-themed restaurant opened in Las Vegas in 1990, guess what happened?
“Neon allowed!” Warwick said Monday morning during a chat at the Neon Museum. “Whoo-hoo! Up went the sign!”
After standing for 28 years, the Hard Rock Cafe sign has come down from its original location on the corner of Harmon Avenue and Paradise Road, been moved to YESCO headquarters and — this week — is being hauled and reassembled at the Neon Museum on Las Vegas Boulevard North, just south of Cashman Center.
The famed visage is being transported in six pieces. The work will be finished Friday, and the guitar will be up and operational within three weeks. But it won’t be lit up until March 5 when the general public will see the entire sign aglow again. A fund-raising effort has raised $230,000 of the $350,000 needed to fund the renovation and relocation with donations coming in from 43 states and 13 countries. (The campaign is is ongoing, and those interested in contributing can do so at www.neonmuseum.org.)
The guitar’s base has been reserved for the names of those who have donated $100 and $250 to the project.
“If you didn’t think this was an international museum before this fundraiser, you know it now,” Rob McCoy, chief executive officer of the Neon Museum, said. “This guitar is going to be an excellent, spectacular addition to the Boneyard.”
As it stands 80 feet tall, the Hard Rock Cafe sign is the largest assembled sign at the Neon Museum (or Neon Boneyard as its oft-applied nickname). The Stardust sign is larger, but it sits in several pieces. The HRC sign has a familiar Gibson design — with the Les Paul signature between its tuning pegs.
The famous sign went dark on New Year’s Eve 2016 as the cafe itself closed. It stood through October 2017 when officials from the Hard Rock Hotel — which owns the old Hard Rock Cafe parcel — began preparing for the ill-fated “The Voice: Neon Dreams” live production show. For months, the future of the sign was in question.
“I can tell you this guitar was within 48 hours of being demolished, in the late summer 2017,” McCoy said. “Hard Rock decided they didn’t want the sign, but YESCO stepped in and say, ‘You’re not destroying the sign, we’re donating it to the Neon Museum.’ “
Warwick, who made the sign a reality in Las Vegas, says he’s impressed the old guitar has survived the years. He’s also pleasantly surprised that the Hard Rock Cafe chain, which still operates Hard Rock Live on the Strip, has lived as long as it has.
“It’s stood the weather very well,” he says. “I don’t think we thought the whole brand would last 28 years, let alone this sign.”
The museum has been a focal point for locals and tourists interested in preserving and observing Las Vegas history. Star director Tim Burton is adding to its mystique and international appeal with his “Tim Burton @ The Neon Museum” art exhibit beginning in October.
But the permanent display of such famous signs as Golden Nugget, La Concha, Sahara, Silver Slipper, Binion’s Horseshoe and Sassy Sally’s is the Neon Museum’s central draw.
McCoy, standing just a few feet from the partially completed sign, grinned as the sun back-lit the new exhibit.
“At this point, this is our central piece,” he said, “but the Boneyard continues to grow. You know, they used to call Fremont Street Glitter Gulch. I think we’re the new Glitter Gulch.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter,@JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.