Las Vegas Neon Museum Opening Soon

PHOTO Las Vegas Boneyard
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Las Vegas has one of the most-iconic skylines in the world all thanks to one thing: neon.

Vegas nights sparkle, flash and shine, thanks to casinos blazing with massive neon signs.

But as "Sin City" constantly reinvents itself, old casinos are blown up for new, and casinos that remain in business update their signs with bigger, bolder images.

So what happens to all those discarded signs?

Enter the The Neon Museum, affectionately known as The Boneyard, a museum dedicated to preserving the unique history of Vegas and its bright lights.

"There is this constant move of decommissioning signs," explains Bill Marion, chairman of the museum board of trustees.

The museum has roughly 450 individual pieces representing 150 signs that hung from 1930s through the '90s. There's the sign from the former Stardust, the Dessert Inn (now the Wynn Las Vegas), Binion's Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget, Caesars Palace and the Silver Slipper.

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The non-profit organization has been trying to make the signs available for public viewing since 1996 but to date very few people have had a chance to see these relics of a Vegas past. Because of the current venue's small size, there are only two tours a day, Tuesday through Saturday and a maximum of 30 people are allowed in each group. The few slots on each tour fill up fast with reservations required. That doesn't leave room for walk-ins in a city known for last-second planning and spontaneity.

"We cannot accommodate now the number of people that want to come," Marion told ABC News.

But that is all about to change. By the end of this year Marion hopes that a long-awaited visitors' center and more formal museum space will open, allowing hundreds of people each day to stroll through the neon graveyard.

As part of a $6.2 million project, Marion said the museum -- using the historic La Concha Motel lobby as its visitors' center -- will open its doors at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street to the masses.

Las Vegas Neon Museum

The museum's collection started with old signs that one of the early manufacturers of the signs, Young Eclectic Sign Company, had the signs lying around in its warehouse. When the company replaced a casino sign, it took the old one back to its warehouse yard -- known as the boneyard -- to use for spare parts on newer signs.

Two decades ago, as the modern-day Las Vegas building boom reached a fevered pitch, city leaders and the company realized they were holding a rare sliver of Vegas history. So in 1996, the museum was founded and has been trying for the last 15 years to open its doors to the greater public.

"There were all these wonderful signs of properties that don't exist anymore but had this wonderful history to them," Marion said.

For instance, the collection includes a sign from the Moulin Rouge, the first racially integrated casino property in Las Vegas.

"We don't have the building anymore but we have the sign," Marion said. "The neon museum allows people to hear those stories and participate in the history."

People might recognize the museum location as the backdrop for high-profile photo and video shoots used for Audi, the Miss America pageant, Harper's Bazaar, CSI, a Killers music video and plenty of wedding photos.

In case you were wondering, yes, the electric bill is pricey. But as part of the expansion, the museum is placing solar panels on the covering of the parking spaces, which Marion said will be enough to light the signs plus provide some excess power that it can sell back to the grid.

Marion said the museum is in the final stages of architectural design and expects to put the job out to bid in February. The goal is to start construction in May and open by the end of 2011.

"The vast majority of the financing is already secured," he said.

"The neon work done in Las Vegas set the standard for what signs could do." You get a history of the evolution of neon as an art form," he said. "It's a one-of-a-kind unique experience."

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