Partners in Preservation: The Neon Museum and The Las Vegas News Bureau

By Kelli Luchs and Derek Weis

The recent designation of neon as Nevada’s official state element ensures that neon and Las Vegas will be forever linked. It was thus auspicious timing for the Neon Museum and the Las Vegas News Bureau to join forces to highlight some of the most iconic Las Vegas signs in their exhibit Then and Now: The Neon Boneyard, which juxtaposes the signs in their original location with images of them in their current home at the Neon Museum.

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Preservation in Las Vegas is often overlooked. With that in mind, the institutions collaborated to highlight preservation efforts in Las Vegas and to honor the Bright Light City’s glow—neon. The Neon Museum has been preserving Las Vegas signage since 1996, and the Las Vegas News Bureau has captured the life of Las Vegas in its photo and video archive since 1947. 

In the beginning of our partnership, we cross-referenced the signs that are in the Neon Boneyard with the photographs in the News Bureau’s archive. We knew that we wanted to feature many of the most popular properties, which includes signs from the 1950s and 1960s—the heyday of Las Vegas neon. That period saw neon signs of unprecedented size and scope, and the Strip was still largely a motel row with low rise architecture, towering signs, and buildings covered in lights.

We also set out to highlight some lesser known signs. One of these is the Jockey Club’s knight, photos of which are relatively rare. The photo showing the knight surrounded by orbiting lights is the only one cataloged in the News Bureau’s vast collection. We also incorporated some photos of signs being moved with trucks and cranes to give people a little taste of the work involved with saving and then arranging them at the Neon Museum. 

The Neon Museum began its mission of saving and preserving signs in 1996 when the restored Hacienda sign was installed at Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard. Since then the Museum and its collection and programming have grown considerably. The collection encompasses approximately 800 sign objects, as well as vintage postcards, matchbooks, original sign renderings, and photographs.

The Las Vegas News Bureau has actively captured the sights and sounds of Las Vegas’ rich history since its beginning in 1947, and it continues to play an important role in marketing Las Vegas as part of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. While its primary function is documenting and distributing images to the news media, the News Bureau shares its collection with the public through community exhibitions. The Bureau also has an active preservation program, which safeguards this collection for future generations.

You can see the Then & Now exhibition until July 24, 2019 at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery at 1017 S. First Street #190 in Las Vegas. It is open Monday-Friday from 1-5pm. The curators will be present and available to speak with the public during July’s First Friday events on July 5. You can also check out a closer look at this exhibition through this June 19, 2019 story from News 3-Las Vegas, VIDEO VAULT, A new way to see Las Vegas history then and now.

Images courtesy of the Neon Museum and Las Vegas News Bureau

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Kelli Luchs, Archivist for the Las Vegas News Bureau a division of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, manages the News Bureau’s archive that is comprised of 4-5 million images, films, and an extensive Manuscript and Artifacts Collection. Luchs also provides community outreach through public exhibitions that are showcased throughout southern Nevada. Luchs received her B.A. in History from Grand Valley State University and a M.A. in Public History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Derek Weis, Education & Engagement Manager at the Neon Museum, oversees the research, development, and implementation of educational programs and initiatives. He received his B.A. in History and M.A. in Applied History from Shippensburg University and has worked previously at several museums in the Las Vegas area and in Pennsylvania.