Updated June 4, 2020 - 11:31 am
Last September, Las Vegas artist James Stanford began designing a large-scale mural for an abandoned building in downtown Las Vegas that used to be the Ukulele Lounge.
He had collaborated with the Cultural Corridor Coalition, raised capital, designed for three external walls, and had crews go out to clean up the area and paint the building white.
When a crew member asked around at a neighboring building if he could use their power, he was told that the Ukulele Lounge owner was demolishing the building in just 10 days.
That day, Stanford took his design concept to the Neon Museum, and on Friday, he and a team of artists will complete his ode to old Las Vegas with an art piece on the museum’s recently acquired Reed Whipple Cultural Center.
The initial purpose for Stanford’s mural, titled “From the Land Beyond Beyond,” was to beautify the Cultural Corridor on Las Vegas Boulevard as well as clean up the Ukulele Lounge building, which had become damaged by squatters.
“It turned out to be a blessing that it didn’t work out the original way,” Stanford says of the last-minute change just three weeks ago.
Last year, the artist reimagined the Blue Angel in his mural “A Phalanx of Angels Ascending” on a nearby building.
Once again, he considered his favorite Las Vegas icons.
The 72-year-old Las Vegas native reflected on his younger days spent at the Stardust and at the casino’s Aku Aku bar and restaurant.
“Many a time I went to Aku Aku,” Stanford says. “It was one of the finest tiki bars in the world. And this was the tiki era. I would take my dates there.”
He also recalled the towering Sultan figures from the Dunes.
“When I was growing up, I called them genies,” Stanford remembers.
Commemorating Las Vegas icons
His mural design features the Stardust marquee flanked by the Dunes’ Sultans and Aku Aku’s towering Polynesian heads. The images sit in front of an airbrushed sky, reminiscent of the one on “Phalanx.”
“I wanted to commemorate Las Vegas icons and I wanted it to complement the Blue Angel,” Stanford says. “And have it act as an entrance to the Neon Museum area in the Cultural Corridor. What better way to do that than to use these very important icons from my youth?”
After relocating the mural, Stanford adapted the original 5,800-square-foot design from the Ukulele Lounge to the 154-foot-long sawtooth wall on the second story of the Reed Whipple building.
Marilyn Gillespie, chairwoman of Cultural Corridor Coalition and founder and executive director of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, says she was thrilled to have the new mural on that stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard.
“I’ve been here for 30 years with the museum, I’ve probably experienced the most changes down here,” Gillespie says. “It’s been an exciting past two months with two derelict buildings torn down. And now you can see the beautiful mural that is painted on Reed Whipple. It helps designate us as an arts district.”
On display into 2021
Rob McCoy, CEO of the Neon Museum, says the mural will be on view through the second quarter of 2021, when construction will resume following COVID-19 delays.
The museum acquired the building across the street one year ago. It will house an indoor gallery, neon craft demonstrations, classrooms, offices and storage.
“Those are three of the most iconic signs in Las Vegas history,” McCoy says of the tributes to Stardust, the Dunes and Aku Aku. “We think more art in that portion is more than a face-lift, it’s a complete reinvention.”