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Vegas KatsWalk: A trip to ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign

Updated March 30, 2020 - 1:11 pm

The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign stands alone as a civic icon. It’s been standing largely alone, in fact, during the coronavirus outbreak.

We discovered as much Friday in the first installment of Vegas KatsWalk, our recurring walk along the Las Vegas Strip and other Vegas landmarks. No more than a dozen visitors were lined up at the sign during a walk that started at 1 p.m. Gone were the showgirls and Elvis impersonators who usually pose for pics at the sign.

During the visit, we recall the great Betty Willis, who designed the sign. We revisit the inspirations behind the sign, why it was never trademarked and the time she was nearly clipped by a limousine while walking to the sign for a PBS interview.

Asked in 2008 why “fabulous” was the adjective used on the sign, Willis said, “There was no other word to use. Las Vegas was fabulous, and we wanted to advertise that.”

We also remember John Woodrum, the late owner of the Klondike Inn Hotel, which sat just across from the sign on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard. Woodrum once ran a power line to the sign to keep it illuminated. He was also an early proponent of building parking slots and crosswalks leading to the sign, saying in a 2008 interview, “It’s a thousand wonders that someone didn’t get killed out there. I spent 30 years watching people run across the street, cars going past at 60 or 70 miles per hour.”

The Klondike was razed and a Harley-Davidson dealership is in its place. An homage to the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign stands at the entrance.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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