Photo Essay: Signs From Our Past - Vintage Vegas Icons In "Hibernation"

Marilyn Davenport

By Marilyn Davenport
Written on 25 June 2008

Vintage Las Vegas neon signs in "hybernation", awaiting hopes of restoration and a bright new future.

Modern Casino

Modern Casino

From the Neon Museum: A collection of wonderful modern fonts from the 60's - Shoot with permission of the Neon Museum - Copyright 2006 Not for commercial ad use

Las Vegas conjures up images of excitement, glitzy glamour and wealth. But the original Las Vegas aged and passed on, much like the “Rat Pack” that helped made it famous.

This photographic body of work celebrates memories of a heritage of greatness that now lies in a sad state of disrepair behind a locked privacy fence in stark and arid outskirts located in the un-glamorous side of “Vegas”. Captured are decades of disheveled, corroding yet still colorful haphazard displays of classic 50’s through 70’s iconic signage, graphics and fabulous font styles that are reminders of their more glorious past. In celebrating these nostalgic icons of history, the question arises: is the slick “Disney” like atmosphere of today what Vegas should be about? Should this metamorphosis be at the cost of vintage iconic Americana? Is this really progress?

I became fascinated with the evolution, which is taking place in Las Vegas. I hadn’t been in several decades since my last visit. Once I discovered the signs, it took months to pin down an appointment. It was under strict guidelines and supervision that the shoot took place. This is to maintain control over their vintage rusted treasures. I was told that they were going to cut down on visits because it’s gotten out of control. They do allow for pre arranged group tours, but if you want to shoot photos for anything other than personal use, you must answer a lot of questions prior to arriving, pay hourly fees and sign a legal agreement stating you will not sell any for commercial use such as retail advertising. Jimmy Buffet would be filming a new video the following day. A fashion shoot for a popular fashion magazine occurred recently, as well as a Rolling Stone Magazine shoot. I felt I was in good company but I wanted to share this place from a more historical viewpoint.

The good news is that the organization raises funds to restore and renew these icons. Most of the signs which are chosen for restoration, are put back on public display at the Freemont Street Experience. Your fees for visiting the "Bone Yard" (if you can get an appointment) go towards these efforts.

In an effort to bring historical awareness, I exhibited a portion of my body of work during FotoFest2008 Transitions, and my entire body of work will be showing at The Museum of Printing History from June 1st - September 13th 2008. My images are exhibited courtesy of the Neon Museum, Las Vegas. Copyright 2006.

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