Hidden Vegas: The Neon Museum

If you have followed by Facebook or Twitter for any length of time you probably know I am always prattling on about the Neon Museum. It is simply one of the coolest places in Las Vegas. Every Friday at Noon I serve as a volunteer tour guide at the museum. And, every Friday I love it!

The Neon Museum Boneyard Park stores more than 170 signs from Vegas days gone by. The hour-long walking tour takes people from old downtown Las Vegas, thru U.S. Highway 91 — now called the Las Vegas Strip — and into the newer properties of Las Vegas.

The tour is nothing but “Wow!” You get to see up close and personal the large neon signs that reshaped Las Vegas: the Golden Nugget, the Moulin Rouge, the La Concha, Stardust, Showboat, Desert Inn and more.

Every tour comes with a history lesson — from the mob ties to the properties on the Strip to Howard Hughes purchase of the Desert Inn to the intricate neon tube bending of the Yucca Motel to the great changes people like Binny Binion made in how Las Vegas does business.

I don’t want to give away too much of the tour in his blog, because you really need to go on the tour to truly appreciate it.

I will show you a couple of my favorite signs.

One of my favorite signs: The Green Shack restaurant circa 1932. The downtown restaurant -- closed in 1999 -- was famous for its fried chicken.

The Green Shack restaurant is the oldest sign in Boneyard Park. This sign dates back to the 1930s. A woman named Mattie Jones came to Las Vegas from Colorado and opened a restaurant called “Colorado” on Christmas Eve 1929. When the restaurant expanded in 1932 it was renamed “The Green Shack.”

This restaurant was located downtown where Boulder Highway meets Fremont Street and was famous for its fried chicken.

Can you imagine how many Hoover Dam workers came downtown in the early 1930s, got a great meal at The Green Shack, then stayed for all the fun an frivolity of Vegas’ famous Block 16 of gambling and prostitution?

The Green Shack was on the National Registry of Historic Places from 1994 to 1999, when it was finally closed and demolished.

My other favorite sign is The Moulin Rouge. Opened in May 1955 in Las Vegas.

My other favorite sign is that of the Moulin Rouge, a truly giant sign inside the park.

The Moulin Rouge was only open from May-November 1955, but it has a huge historical significance on the history of Las Vegas.

When it opened it was the first integrated hotel in the United States. Performers like Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Armstrong all performed there.

Unfortunately the combination of skimming and threats from the white casino owners led to a quick demise of the Moulin Rouge. However, five years after it closed, the Moulin Rouge hosted a meeting between the governor of Nevada, local city leaders and leaders of the NAACP. The meeting was to head off a planned march by the city’s African American residents down Las Vegas Boulevard. From the meeting, all Las Vegas hotels and casinos became integrated.

This is how the Moulin Rouge looked back in the day. The sign is now in the Boneyard.

Here is how the sign would have looked on the Moulin Rouge building when the building still existed.

The Moulin Rouge Corporation still owns the sign in Boneyard Park. However, most of the buildings at 900 Bonanza Road have been destroyed during a series of fires, including at least one arson.

The Neon Museum is a great secret to tourists and local alike. If you want to go on a tour, please plan ahead. Tours are usually sold out 2-3 weeks in advance.

Of all the gambles you will take when you come to Las Vegas, the $15 spent on a tour of Boneyard Park is a sure thing!

Don’t believe me? Check out Yelp!


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