It has been known by many names; the Graveyard, the Neon Sign Museum, the Boneyard, the Neon Graveyard, and perhaps many more I'm not even aware of.
When I visited what is now consolidated and called, most simply, the Neon Museum, an appointment was required and a fee was paid. Behind a chain link fence and hardly visible from the road was a haphazard collection of neon signs that acted as a visual representation of the grand days of old Las Vegas. Picture the glory days of Sinatra and Davis Jr. before Clooney and Pitt were paying homage to them in Ocean's Eleven and you're on the right track. Yet all signs were rusting and unattended and the glory was harder to picture.
The official museum now stands away from the dusty lot I visited and is a modern and organized home for the beautifully restored signage from the golden era of Sin City. It comprises the Neon Boneyard, the Downtown Gallery and the Las Vegas Signs Project.
Don't go in the middle of the day to the Boneyard as the Nevada sun will beat down on you and force you to want to hurry through an exhibit that should really be savored. You should take time to view the over 150 donated and rescued signs dating from the 1930’s to present day. Guided tours take place Mondays through Saturdays starting at 10:00 a.m. Tickets begin at $12. Photography is strictly for personal use only unless an additional permit is purchased and an appointment is arranged in advance.
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Where Vegas Gets Its Glow Back
The neon lights of Las Vegas are disappearing and being replaced by LEDs and theater screens. To see the old Vegas—and not just a desert version of Times Square—head to the Neon Museum, or "Boneyard." Here you'll go on a walk down memory lane as enthusiastic guides relate the history of Sin City and the art of neon. Due to heat, tours are offered in the morning and evening; be sure to book in advance.
Reservations required -- and no wonder. The tours at the Neon Museum sell out months in advance. A walk through the museum's famous "Boneyard" (where neon goes to die) is fascinating, from motel row to the first integrated casino (that shut almost as soon as it opened), and the Stardust, with its nuclear testing-inspired font. All of this comes alive thanks to the museum's famous docents, all art history buffs with loads of family history or other personal anecdotes.
Yes, what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay there, but the one-hour guided tour at the Neon Museum is too good to keep secret. Just a mile past Freemont Street in downtown Vegas lies an open lot littered with old signage. Each sign tells the story of the city's past, from mob origins to swapping a family-friendly image for a more lascivious one. We loved hearing why slot machines have seats, who laundered Liberace's clothes, and how burnt out bulbs were changed. Next time we're in town, we'll take the night tour for even more vibrant pics and slightly cooler temperatures.