When you imagine the Las Vegas strip, there’s no doubt you’ll picture it glowing with neon. From the early days of Sin City, casinos, restaurants and hotels have been shouting their presence in bright, pulsing light. Though neon has been largely replaced with contemporary technology, there are some who had the good taste and foresight to preserve those vintage Las Vegas signs. This post is a pictorial ode to the designers, neon benders, marketers and preservationists that created and continue to maintain these works of commercial art. It also includes newer creations that continue the tradition of great signage in Las Vegas.
Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas
Illuminated signs are a distinctive element of the Las Vegas streetscape, led by none other than THE “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign, a historic landmark and tourist favourite. The sign at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South – between the airport and The Strip – has been welcoming visitors to the city since 1959. It was commissioned by salesman Ted Rogich who owned a small neon company in Nevada.
The design was created by commercial artist Betty Willis, in the Googie style which was all the rage through the 1940’s and -50’s. Betty was kind enough to gift the design to Las Vegas and therefore it was never trademarked. This has given way to oodles of Vegas merchandise bearing the design.
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“Las Vegas is the only city in the world whose skyline is made up of neither buildings [as in NYC] nor trees [Wilbraham, MA], but signs. One can look at Las Vegas from a mile away and only see signs … towering, revolving and oscillating.” – Tom Wolfe, 1963
“Bright light city gonna set my soul; Gonna set my soul on fire.” – Elvis Presley, 1964
Ways to experience vintage Las Vegas signs
- Tour The Neon Museum, dedicated to preserving this element of Las Vegas history. This Museum is a must-do on your Vegas itinerary, whether you’re into design, history or juicy urban legends.
- Take a free, self-guided walk to see nine restored neon signs that have been placed into public spaces in Las Vegas. Get more information including a map here.
- Get your photo with the original Welcome sign (there are now two other replicas). My advice is to arrive early in the morning (before 8am) to avoid a long queue. There is parking available within the median strip where the sign is located which can be accessed by southbound lanes only.
You can take home a piece of the famous “Welcome” sign, by purchasing a light globe that was used in the landmark. They are sold to raise money for charity through the website Official Las Vegas Light.