Photo by Jeff Hartman
The Las Vegas Neon Sign Museum
By Jeff Hartman
Just past downtown Las Vegas lie some of the oldest memories and treasured stories of Las Vegas and the Strip. The old neon signs found in “The Boneyard” at the Neon Sign Museum take visitors back in history to when Vegas was just a road in the desert and hotels and casinos were just beginning to bloom.
If these signs could talk, they would entertain you for hours with stories of budding stars, questionable characters, big dreamers, and brilliant entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, they don’t talk, but they still tell some pretty incredible stories!
Las Vegas Club
This was the first neon sign ever on a gambling establishment in Las Vegas and the second sign ever put up in the city. It dates back to 1930.
Built in 1957, the Tropicana was the 12th resort on the Strip, costing $5.5 million to build. The grand opening featured the likes of Dean Martin, Groucho Marx, and Nat King Cole. Within a month of opening, the casino was linked to mobster Frank Costello and was shut down until more reputable gaming operators took over.
Silver Slipper Gambling Hall
Boasting one of the most famous Las Vegas signs ever, the original building was built in 1950. In 1968, business magnate Howard Hughes bought the Silver Slipper because, as legend has it, the lights from the slipper bothered him at night. The fact that the tip of the shoe paused in his direction as it rotated led him to believe spies had placed a camera on it to watch him in the penthouse next door.
Sahara Casino Hotel
Built in 1952, the Sahara was the 6th casino to open on the Strip. The North African themed hotel was where Abbott and Costello performed together for the last time in 1956. The sign itself was host to perhaps the greatest publicity stunt ever when a man performed a one-arm handstand on a cane on top of the 50-foot sign.
Hotel Last Frontier, constructed in 1942 and later renamed the “New Frontier,” was the second major casino built on the Strip. It brought in famous acts such as the Marx Brothers, Judy Garland, Ronald Reagen, Sammy Davis Jr, and Frank Sinatra. In 1956 Elvis made his first Las Vegas appearance here and in 1970 The Supremes made their last.
Benny Binion was born in Pilot Grove, Texas in 1904 and was a gambler from a very young age. After failing in business and being suspected of numerous murders in Texas, he fled to Las Vegas and opened the Horseshoe Casino in 1951. The Horseshoe was a pure casino with no shows and served only chili from a recipe he allegedly got while in jail. It was the first place to serve free alcohol and to install carpeting. Guests staying on the upper floors watched the mushroom clouds from the testing of atomic bombs miles away.
The first two-level club in Las Vegas, Sassy Sally’s opened its doors in 1956. In 2001, Sassy Sally’s became the Mermaid Casino and it’s one of the few casinos that still cashes out in real money. The famous neon Cowgirl sign named Sassy Sally can still be seen on Fremont street and has since been renamed Vegas Vicky.
This is the skull from the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, opened in 1993. Business magnate Steve Wynn built Treasure Island for a measly $450 million. Ten years later, they changed the theme from pirates to something more contemporary and removed a majority of the décor, including the skull seen in this picture.
Stardust Resort and Casino
The grand opening of the Stardust in 1958 hosted governors, senators, and Hollywood celebrities. Legendary Seigfried and Roy got their start here and Wayne Newton became the “headliner-in-residence” in 1999, contracted to perform at the Stardust 40 weeks per year.
Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino
Opened in 1955, the nation’s first desegregated hotel helped pave the way for the civil rights movement in Las Vegas. Some of the great talents of all-time, white and black, frequented the Rouge to gamble, perform, and party into the early hours of the morning. Among the regulars were Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.