This is where the typographic neon sculptures go to rest
Signs, signs, signs! Letterforms that once brightly shone the way towards glitzy casinos are laid to rest. “Epically scaled neon signs and letters loomed over us, competing for our attention like giant, candy-colored shrines to a city built on dreams and bent on continual reinvention” writes photographer Matt Crump whose striking portfolio reminded us of this graveyard of vanities. “Signage is one of my favorite subjects. So visiting The Neon Museum in Las Vegas— the only institution in the world dedicated to salvaging iconic examples of the genre—was like stepping into heaven” he commented and we have to agree.
“We may be made of star stuff, as the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, but our imaginations contain a strong dose of “Stardust” — at least as the word appears here” writes NYT’s Edward Rothstein. “The capital S, its 17-foot-tall body peppered with bulbs, is shaped like a coy lightning bolt. Its jagged strokes change thickness and meet at unexpected angles, like the stylized clothes of “The Jetsons.” The T’s are like toon sketches of rays shooting from stars. And the whole word here — though not lighted up with pulsing energy as it once was — seems to conjure fantasy.” The open-air Neon Museum in Las Vegas is a wonderland for every typophile out there.
From the crown jewel of the museum’s collection, the retro-futuristic lobby of the La Concha Motel which was shut down in 2003 to the “boneyard” with more than 150 unrestored artifacts, this is a magical place full of aged neon relics. Since 1996 the museum attempts to rescue remnants of an era long forgotten. “Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Mass., but signs” wrote Tom Wolfe during the 60s, when the Renaissance of Neon was really happening. This is a haven for slab serifs and ligatures, for dusted ascenders and descenders.
The Neon Boneyard is a haven for slab serifs and ligatures, for dusted ascenders and descenders.
When tourists think of Las Vegas, their first impression of the Sin City often comes from the world’s most famous neon attraction. Designed by Betty Willis, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign has been greeting visitors at the southern end of the Strip since 1959. Situated in a large industrial backlot, the Neon Boneyard is a tangible history of design with over 150 typographic sculptures from the 1930s to present day. This typographic jackpot originated from storage lots owned by major sign manufacturers like the Young Electric Sign Company, also known as YESCO. “Marquee signs announce the rat-pack era with glitz and glam and bulbs aplenty to serve performers like Sammy Davis Jr. and Sinatra” writes graphic designer Josh Smith. “A well-informed guide recaps the story of when the Stardust lettering was later replaced by Futura Bold when the hotel decided to take on a more corporate persona. When the angry local community protested, management formally apologized to the public and re-instated as much of the former signage as possible (who says the public doesn’t care about typography?).” Nobody, as far as we are concerned.
“Neon signs arguably put Las Vegas on the map” comments photographer Judy Natal who was so inspired by it that she spent 4 years capturing historic casino signs in large-format color photographs that spotlight the 26 letters of the alphabet for her book Neon Boneyard Las Vegas A-Z. “Considered the true art form of the city, they tell an elaborate story of the history of Las Vegas, with the first neon sign appearing around 1929. Sign development exploded in the 1930s, grabbing not only the attention of the drivers speeding through the Mojave but the entire country. America in general, and Las Vegas in particular, continues it’s love affair with neon to this day. And where do these signs go when they age, when they grow old and tired, and technology has passed them by?” Here, in this absolute homage to the illuminated typography of yesteryear, in this peaceful sanctuary of signs and letters, in the Neon Boneyard.
Text by Loukas Karnis
Images by Matt Crump
When the Stardust lettering was replaced by Futura Bold the angry local community protested
“Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, nor of trees but signs” wrote Tom Wolfe
Neon signs, the true art form of the city, tell an elaborate story of the history of Las Vegas, with the first appearing around 1929