Old Vegas signs on the road again

Cranes took up position at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and McWilliams Avenue on Monday to start the delicate work of relocating vintage neon signs, the first stage in remaking the corner known as the Neon Boneyard.

The relocation, to the Cashman Center parking lot next door, will be temporary while a half-acre park is built by Las Vegas.

The Neon Museum, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans for a visitors center and a more organized exhibit of the accumulated neon treasures, including a walking path and a fence that is not made of chain link and barbed wire.

“We don’t want to lose the raw experience of the boneyard, but we do have to have a plan,” said Danielle Kelly, the museum’s operations manager. “The goal is for the whole boneyard to be open to general admission.”

Until now, tours of the signs were guided and by appointment only. Those tours are suspended for the duration of construction, which is expected to take 10 months.

The museum is home to more than 150 neon signs from Las Vegas’ past. There are huge ones, such as the Stardust sign, which is in nine pieces, or the Treasure Island skull that grins up at the sky (check it out on Google Maps).

There are small ones, like the dancing shirt sign from Steiner’s Cleaners or the leftover G, A, M, L and I from a “gambling hall” sign possibly dating from the 1930s.

Their conditions vary. Some, like those lining parts of Las Vegas Boulevard north of Bonanza Road, have been painstakingly restored. Others have suffered from the elements and have cracked and peeling paint, rust spots and missing bulbs.

Eventually, more of the signs might be restored, Kelly said. Some may just have the lighting fixed, however, leaving the wear and tear of history as is, and some will simply stay as they are.

“We really honor the way they wear their history,” Kelly said. “The peeling paint and the patina on them — we think it’s very beautiful.

“It’s about the story, really. … The city is young. These things are historic, yet they’re within the realm of our memory.”

The park is a $1.9 million project funded by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which sets aside money from public land sales to pay for parks and trails projects. Work on the museum’s improvements is provided by grant funds and donations.

The sign for Neon Boneyard Park will feature re-created letters from some of Las Vegas’ most famous signs: N’s from the Desert Inn and the Golden Nugget, an E from Caesars Palace and an O from Binion’s.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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