Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

The Story of Las Vegas Through Neon Signs

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 24, 2022 3:02 am

The Story of Las Vegas Through Neon Signs

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1290 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

October 24, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, executive director of the Neon Museum, Aaron Berger, shares some of the history of Las Vegas and the iconic signage Associated with it.

Support the show (

See for privacy information.


When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you.

To learn more, visit The thrill of forging your own path is powerful. Nissan is bringing that thrill to our community in collaboration with the Black Effect Podcast Network to create The Thrill of Possibility, a community impact program and summit curated to support HBCU students in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, or STEAM, and introduce them to exclusive opportunities. Nissan is committed to creating opportunity for the whole community and ensuring that Black excellence is a part of the new future of automotive.

For more information about this program and how to apply, visit slash Nissan. Hi, I'm Anahat O'Connor, a health columnist, and I'm passionate about learning and sharing how we can all sleep and live better. That's why I'm hosting Chasing Sleep, a brand new podcast from Mattress Firm and iHeartRadio, where we'll connect with the people who live, work, and perform in some of the most incredible environments, and we'll see how they adapt and use their sleep to perform at the highest level. Learn how you can sleep well to live well, too.

Listen to Chasing Sleep on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we continue with our American stories, and we've told stories from many of the museums across this great country, from the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum to the Museum of Bad Art, and even the American Banjo Museum. Today, we have Aaron Berger, executive director of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the capital of neon, to share the history of Las Vegas and the iconic signage associated with it. So the story is actually pretty interesting.

It was officially founded in 1996. I think one of the great things about Las Vegas is this constant evolution. Every time you visit, if you come by once a year, you're going to see a different landscape and a different cityscape. But there were volunteers who were concerned about the signage that, especially since they couldn't preserve some of the buildings that were being raised, they wanted to preserve the signage that was out front. A unique aspect of signage is that in many cases, the building itself doesn't own the sign, even if it's attached to the building. It's actually leased by the sign maker. And so the sign maker actually owns that piece of property. And so you can raise a building, but the sign often goes back to the original sign maker, and they have what's called a boneyard, which is a place for them to pull parts, pull neon tubing, pull lights, pull mechanics. And so these concerned citizens in 96 started meeting with various sign makers and saying, you know, we'd like to make sure that these parts of history don't necessarily get used to create new signage, but we actually save the original pieces themselves.

It's fascinating to me to be able to tell the story of history using such an unusual medium, right? So we're using outdoor signage to tell you the story of Las Vegas history. It took until 2012 for us to actually open our facility in our current space, which is on Las Vegas Boulevard.

We're a little under three acres of property. We have four physical components to the Neon Museum. The first that, it's hard to say it's my favorite, but I'd say it's probably my favorite, is actually the physical building, the lobby that you enter. It's called La Concha, which means the shell. It was designed by an architect named Paul Revere Williams. Paul Revere Williams was the first black architect to be accepted into the AIA. He designed this piece of architecture. It looks like a seashell, but it was designed to try and attract people off the roadway, to be this sort of unusual enough looking building that someone would actually pull off the road and say, I want to see this.

So that's our lobby. We get a chance to tell a little bit about Paul Revere Williams, his contributions. This is mid-century, a time where some people would maybe not feel comfortable sitting next to a black man, even though he's your architect, and even though he's an architect who's building the homes of Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra.

So he really learned how to draw out designs upside down so that people could sit on the other side of the desk from him and still understand his designs. So I think that's a unique part of history and an important part of kind of setting the stage of when you come to the Neon Museum. That's the first step. Second step is the neon boneyard. So the boneyard again refers to the concept of what sign makers have, which is again a space that they go into to pull parts and use for the recreation of new signage. We have curated our boneyard so that it is a very thoughtful and logical tour through everything from small businesses to casinos, the strip, motels, and really gives you sort of a walk through Las Vegas history. One of the things that was really striking to me as a visitor is as you tour the boneyard, you're given an insight into the black experience by being shown the Moulin Rouge sign. The Moulin Rouge was a casino that, while it lived for a short period of time, was the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas. So if you had someone like Aretha Franklin or Sammy Davis Jr. who would perform on the strip, they would do these great shows, they would of course pack the house, but they weren't allowed to stay in those hotels. So the Moulin Rouge became a place for both black and white visitors to stay.

It was often a 2.30 in the morning show, so after Aretha Franklin had done two shows again on the strip, she would do a third show at the Moulin Rouge for the people staying there. So we have that amazing sign. We have the story of women. We have the story of the indigenous people from Las Vegas and the Las Vegas area. We have the story of Latinx community, the LGBT community. All of these stories are conveyed as you walk through and learn a little bit about the signage that you're seeing.

The third is the brilliant show. A few years ago we contracted with an artist whose name is Craig Winslow. We have a gallery that is, there's no electricity going to the signage at all. These signs are largely to a point where they are beyond conservation.

There's nothing we can really do to bring them back to life. So Craig has developed through a process called projection mapping, two large towers that pinpoint light onto these, for lack of a better word, dead signs. And he brings them back to life.

And when I say pinpoint, it really is looking at each individual light bulb and seeing that light bulb begin to flicker and come back to life. He does it to sort of an iconic Las Vegas soundtrack. So you'll hear everything from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga to of course Elvis and bringing it back all of these incredible signs in a great 25 minute experience.

And then the fourth aspect is what's outside the museum walls. So we have over a dozen pieces of our collection that adorn different parts of downtown Las Vegas. So through South Las Vegas Boulevard you'll see signage that's out there, the silver slipper, you'll see motel signs, you'll see wonderful pieces that are just really fantastic. And they're all part of our collection, but it's in partnership with the city that you can take advantage and kind of revel in those pieces as well. So neon signs really, I think their heyday was in the 50s.

We have examples dating back to as early as the 30s in our collection. But the basis of neon is to use electricity to draw someone's attention. I think the reason Las Vegas is such an epicenter for neon is that all of our, whether it's the gaming industry, the casinos, the attractions that we have, the restaurants, we're all vying for someone's attention. And so these combination of neon lights added to flashing light bulbs, added to these glimmering kind of stars and shines, this is what sort of attracts the person to come in off the street and check out this location versus the location next door. So the signage is critical in a town like Las Vegas.

I mean it's what's going to bring someone in. In the 30s we were dealing with prohibition at that point. The oldest sign we have in our collection is one from the Green Shack, and it is a restaurant.

We know that it's from the 30s, but we know it's also from after prohibition because they're promoting cocktails. You know, Las Vegas sort of bloomed from people coming from the West Coast to Las Vegas, or from Los Angeles coming through town, and so the city sort of developed as a result of that, of trying to get people off the road and have a chance to come and spend the night to take advantage of all the things that are offered. But it was also a place, as the Hoover Dam was being built, it was also a place where people would come to see the Hoover Dam, to see this architectural marvel.

There were of course need for the workers who were working at the dam to have places to go and enjoy after an incredibly long day of work, so the Green Shack is a great example of that. We have over 850 signs in our permanent collection. On display we have about 250 signs that are out in the actual Boneyard or in the North Gallery, and then at night we illuminate about two dozen signs. The reason that we illuminate just that 24 or so is because A, if we were to illuminate everything, you would get a really great sunburn, B, you would sort of get lost and you wouldn't be able to really appreciate any one sign in particular. So newest acquisition that's just come in, we've just accepted the Planet Hollywood sign.

So this is an incredibly iconic globe that is 25 feet across, weighs somewhere in the range of about 13,000 pounds. This is from 1994 outside Caesars Palace on the Strip, and when the opening took place there were 10,000 people in stadium seats outside to watch the stars arrive for the opening of this restaurant, so including, and it wasn't just stars, I mean George and Barbara Bush came to the opening of the restaurant. The signs are again, they're a catalyst, right? They're what starts the conversation. What excites me is when people tell me about staying at the Moulin Rouge or their experience, you know, if they were one of the 10,000 standing outside waiting to see the next celebrity at Planet Hollywood. So those types of things, those stories we love to collect as well. So we do programs certainly that are educational by nature, we want people to come in and learn a lot more and take a deeper dive into some of our stories.

But we do weddings, we do album covers, photo shoots for everything from TV shows to the cover of magazines. So there is no place truly on earth like the Neon Museum. It's a great way to just, I don't know, immerse yourself in Las Vegas' heyday. And a special thanks to Faith and Madison for their work on the storytelling, and a special thanks also to Aaron Berger, Executive Director of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. Go to to learn more, and the next time I'm in Vegas I'll make sure to stop by. Same with you the next time you're visiting the great town and city of Las Vegas. By all means, pay a visit.

The story of the Neon Museum, here on Our American Stories. Music When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, soundshaped to you.

To learn more, visit Hey everyone, it's Ben, Matt, and Noel here from the Stuff They Don't Want You to Know podcast. Ready to get spooky with us? Then if you dare, head over to iHeartland on Roblox and come celebrate spooky season with our special Halloween episode. It's happening at State Farm Park, located smack dab in the middle of iHeartland. Come make this the creepiest Halloween ever. Don't miss the Stuff They Don't Want You to Know Halloween special in iHeartland at State Farm Park starting Monday, October 24th at 7 p.m. Eastern. Learn more at slash iHeartland.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-13 14:53:08 / 2022-11-13 14:59:04 / 6

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime