When people think of Las Vegas, neon signs are among the first things to spring to mind. However, LED screens and other forms of displays are increasingly replacing them. The Neon Museum has done an excellent job of preserving old signs, some of which are even refurbished and returned to the streets as art, such as the Landmark sign near the Las Vegas Convention Center. But there are still many signs out there, doing the night-in, night-out job of letting people know where they can find a cheeseburger, a hotel room or a craps table.
Binion’s Gambling Hall opened in 1951 as Binion’s Horseshoe, run by gaming legend and shady character Benny Binion. Binion’s acquired the Mint in 1988 and incorporated most of its curvy pink-and-turquoise Googie signage into the Binion’s marquee. While the hotel’s original horseshoe sign is now in the Neon Museum, most of the rest remains—keep an eye out for the old-time signage on the 4th Street side.
Circus Circus’ most obvious signage is “Lucky,” the 123-foot-tall (37.4 meters) clown who has stood by the side of the Strip since 1976. The giant roadside clown may be the most visible symbol of Circus Circus, but the pink-and-gold porte-cochère is one of the most exquisite pieces of neon in Las Vegas.
The signage for the El Cortez Hotel & Casino is more noir than mid-mod, which makes sense since it was built in 1941. The sign has been there since the opening—its salmon-pink glow consistently maintained. With a long and storied history involving many famous Vegas characters such as Bugsy Siegel, J. Kell Houssels, and Jackie Gaughan, the El Cortez is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Flamingo has been on the Strip since 1947, but nothing of the original structure remains. From 1952 to 1967, the Flamingo’s sign was a distinctive “champagne bubble” tower. But, after one of its many renovations/reconstructions, the current part-feather, part-flame marquee was installed. There are also a number of other luminous flourishes throughout the property, including, of course, neon flamingos.
The oldest casino in Las Vegas, the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino recently underwent a massive renovation and expansion. However, they left most of the hotel’s magnificent signage alone. There are light-bulb-studded signs of the casino name in different fonts, but the best is the Googie-style vertical sign, with its neon bridge and hypnotically tilting letters.
Back in the days of family road trips in four-door Thunderbirds and Chevrolet Corvairs, Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street used to be lined with motels. One of the last surviving is the High Hat Regency Motel, whose shimmering script title and flashing top hat lend a touch of class to an otherwise humble spot.
Another of the holdovers from Las Vegas’ roadside motel days, the Holiday House and Holiday Motels sit in the limbo zone of the Las Vegas Strip between the big casinos and downtown. The motels were recently closed and will be renovated and reopened as apartments. No word yet on the ultimate fate of the signs, but for now, they continue to glow.
The sign for an In-N-Out Burger could just be a piece of cardboard scrawled in Sharpie®, and people would still come from far and wide for a Double Double. But the In-N-Out on Tropicana has an enormous, rotating neon sign that’s almost as much of a feast for the eyes as their burgers are for the palate.
The more recently built casinos tend to favor flat LED billboards, but the Paris Las Vegas made a grand gesture with their 180-foot (54.8-meter) neon balloon. The sign is modeled after the “Montgolfier Balloon,” the first passenger-carrying balloon, which flew over Paris in 1783.
No list of Las Vegas’ greatest signs would be complete without the Las Vegas sign. Designed by Betty Willis in 1959, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign has become the symbol of the city, adorning everything from keychains to sports uniforms.