Museums Unframed - Neon Boneyard

Museums don’t have to meanlong, silent hallways with a bunch of old stuff framed on the walls. In parks, galleries and halls of fame from Vegas to D.C., there are tons of cool things for your ogling pleasure.
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The two-story-high Coin Castle King presides over the controlled chaos of the Neon Boneyard. A relic from a defunct casino, the King, bejeweled with yellow lightbulbs and bedecked with purple cape and red pants, would have likely been hauled off to the trash 20 years ago. But thanks to the Bone-yard, a 3-acre gravel lot in downtown Las Vegas, the King still reigns.

“Las Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” says Brian “Paco” Alvarez, former curator at the Boneyard. “[The city has] been notorious for imploding a lot of our buildings, but we’re beginning to understand the importance of preserving some of the small tokens.”
A collection of unrestored signs from 1935 to the present, the Boneyard is a retirement home of sorts, where the lights that made Las Vegas famous congregate to nurse their battle scars. Twisted neon, broken bulbs and chipping paint serve as reminders of a history of redesign and implosion.

If it’s not the most conspicuous attraction in Las Vegas, it soon will be. Plans are under way to cre-ate an indoor/outdoor space with a full staff by fall 2008. The lobby from La Concha Motel, a local landmark, was recently moved to the site and will house a visitor’s center. Until then, however, the Boneyard welcomes visitors by appointment only.

Among the more than 100 signs are a giant heeled slipper once belonging to the Silver Slipper casino, the futuristic, stylized Stardust letters and a magic lamp that once perched atop the marquee at the Aladdin.

“I always say that Vegas is known as being this oasis of light in the middle of the desert,” says Melanie Coffee, the Boneyard’s media coordinator, and “the Boneyard is where the history of that lies.”   — Jack Houston

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