LAS VEGAS (AP) — In a city known for detonating buildings past their prime, Las Vegas' Neon Museum stands alone in its zeal for salvaging the blinking, glowing memories of Sin City's past.
The museum that once consisted of a dirt lot with a handful of retired motel and casino signs is stepping up to the big leagues, unveiling a visitors center Saturday and lighting up its large outdoor collection to allow night tours soon.
"I don't think there's another opportunity to experience the history of the city in such a unique way," said museum Executive Director Danielle Kelly. "It's a cultural experience as the signs being art, artifacts of innovative design."
The museum was founded in 1996 as a way to rescue old signs when buildings were demolished or remodeled. It has amassed some 160 signs, most housed in the Neon Boneyard just outside downtown on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.
The hour-long guided tours that wind through the two-acre boneyard — and sell out weeks in advance — offer a visual history of Las Vegas. There's the museum's oldest sign: a 1930s relic that once marked a restaurant frequented by Boulder Dam construction workers. It's an entry point into the story of how that public works marvel shaped the southern Nevada economy, and how businesses relished the end of Prohibition.
Another — a vintage illuminated arrow, directing tourists to "Wedding Information" — tells how Las Vegas became ground zero for elopements.
And the giant sign once atop the Stardust casino — featuring a spacey, futuristic font — tells of the first casino to embrace Nevada's role as a test site for nuclear weapons.