Neon signs are an iconic feature of many cities, but what happens when they reach the end of their commercial lifespan? In Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Warsaw and soon in Hong Kong, signs are being collected, preserved and displayed in neon museums where they can be enjoyed by the public.
The Neon Museum Las Vegas
Venture just a little way north off the end of the Las Vegas strip and look out for the distinctive shell shaped La Concha building that now serves as the visitor centre for the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Boulevard North). For the past 20 years the Neon Museum has been collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs. Book an hour-long guided tour to explore the Neon boneyard. Tours run various times throughout the day and night. I recommend a tour around sunset to see the signs in the falling light and also see the seven restored signs in all their glory after dark.
Heading back after dark, drive the National Scenic Byway, the stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Sahara Avenue and Washington Avenue featuring restored classic neon signs. These include the Hacienda Horse and Rider, Binion’s Horseshoe, the Bow & Arrow Motel, the Silver Slipper, Society Cleaners, Lucky Cuss Motel, and the Normandie Motel. Take a short detour to see the 5th Street Liquor Store sign near Casino Center and Garces Street and the Landmark Hotel sign on Paradise Road near the Las Vegas Visitor’s and Convention Authority, see map here.
Museum of Neon Art (MONA) Los Angeles
The Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Los Angeles houses a collection of three decades of historic neon signs and other electric media art. If you have a free Saturday night, book the MONA Neon Cruise, a bus tour which takes in the neon signs, movie marquees and permanent installations of contemporary neon art through Downtown and Hollywood.
BAR-B-Q, MONA – Image courtesy of Omar Bárcena @ Flickr
The Neon Muzeum, Warsaw
Half a world away in Warsaw, Poland. a museum is preserving the neon signs of Poland’s cold war era. The Neon Muzeum is based in Soho Factory, Praga and contains hundreds of ‘electro-graphic symbols’. The history of neon in Poland is fascinating. Polish delegates to the West were dazzled by the neon lights of Paris, Hamburg and London and were able to implement neon for use in ‘Socialist Advertising’ in communist Poland by shunning garish advertising of brands for harmonious signage of landmarks and public information. For example, a neon mermaid with sword and shield atop an open book marked a public library, a neon puss in boots adorned a shoe store and a neon cup of coffee indicated a cafe. Wander through yourself or make a reservation to take a guided tour in English.
M+, Hong Kong
Since the early 2000s, thousands of the iconic neon signs of Hong Kong have been deemed illegal structures and removed from the streets by the Buildings Department. To explore Hong Kong’s neon signs online, visit Mobile M+: NEONSIGNS.HK, an online exhibition mapping, documenting and exploring the neon signs of Hong Kong. Browse the extensive photographic library or explore using the interactive maps.
M+ is a new museum planned to open in 2017 as part of the West Kowloon Cultural District. M+ has begun acquiring, for its permanent collection, notable Hong Kong neon signs that are otherwise at risk of being lost, including the Sammy’s Kitchen neon cow. Watch this space for updates as M+ nears completion.