Neon Museum set to open in downtown Las Vegas

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, electricians Luis Varela, left, and Aaron Chastain work together to install the base of a lighting fixture on the grounds of the soon to open Neon Museum in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean)

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, electricians Luis Varela, left, and Aaron Chastain work together to install the base of a lighting fixture on the grounds of the soon to open Neon Museum in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean) Photo by The Associated Press.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — After talking, planning and collecting iconic Las Vegas casino, motel and store signs since 1996, the Neon Museum finally has an opening date.

The 2-acre resting place for more than 150 brightly lighted signs, known for years as the Neon Boneyard, is expected to open to the public for foot tours Oct. 27, after its keepers finish converting the lobby of the old La Concha motel into a visitor center and shop.

The La Concha embodies an era before the Strip became dominated by large corporations and video walls. Its distinctive clamshell shape, dating to 1961, stood next to the Riviera hotel-casino. It was moved several miles up Las Vegas Boulevard six years ago.

"Part of the lure is that people are looking for the 'Old Vegas' experience," said William Marion, chairman of the board of trustees of the nonprofit Neon Museum. "This is a unique way to show it to people."

The museum near Cashman Center just north of downtown Las Vegas has been generating revenue for a couple of years by offering $15 tours for about 80 to 100 people a day. But Marion told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/NC6ked) that limited capacity has forced the museum to turn away about 20 people a day.

The museum board now aims for a first-year operating budget of $1 million. Tours will be every half hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tickets will be $18 for adults and $12 for seniors, students, locals and veterans. Children 6 and under will get in free. Souvenirs and rentals for photo shoots or receptions also will be offered.

Project architect Patrick Klenk calls the 16 restored signs that have been placed as teasers around the downtown Fremont Street area in recent years "bits of the Neon Museum spread like bread crumbs."

Klenk, president of Westar Architects, said the idea create interest about the signs.

Marion, managing partner of the Purdue Marion & Associates public relations firm, said an aggressive marketing push will follow the opening in the attempt to more than triple visitor counts to the about 400 a day during full operations, he said.

The museum had to raise $2.8 million to bring its plans to life. About $600,000 was spent to rescue the La Concha from demolition and move it.

About $500,000 came from private donations and the rest from local, state and federal sources. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority contributed about $300,000.

Much of the collection was donated by sign companies, Marion said. Many companies leased the signs to the casinos, then kept them in a boneyard for spare parts after they were replaced.

Neon signs in the United States date from the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. But Las Vegas has become almost as known for bright lights as for slot machines. The museum features signs from wedding chapels, used car lots and prohibition speakeasies and a looping 40-foot moniker from Las Vegas' first integrated casino, the Moulin Rouge.

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