Photo Essays

No Vacancy in Vintage Vegas

by Maro Hagopian on January 28, 2011

I recently took a journey through the Neon Museum of Las Vegas: a graveyard of Vegas signage. I spent most of my formative years in Las Vegas, 1981-1988, and gaudy neon was everywhere.

Ironically, my earliest neon memories don’t begin in Vegas but with my family’s road trips across the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We stayed in Holiday Inn hotels along the way. As part of the ritual of car travel, I was given the job of spotting the gigantic neon Holiday Inn sign that would pop out from behind the trees off the highway. I was nicknamed “Eagle Eye” for my ability to point out the signs from far distances. This is where my fixation with big bright hotel signs began and inadvertently my keen “eagle eye” was honed.

Shortly thereafter, we moved from the suburbs of Detroit to Las Vegas, the city of hotels.

As an adult, I fly back to Las Vegas frequently and I relive my youth by driving around the city in a rent-a-car with my camera in tow capturing the city I once knew. In this piece for Hyperallergic, I am posting photographs from my ongoing photo documentary series consisting of Las Vegas hotel & motel photographs from 2007 to the present.

Most of the signs have survived but they will eventually meet their maker — like they all do — and end up in the Neon Sign Museum or the institution’s large Neon Boneyard.

The majority of these Vegas hotel signs were created by a sign company called YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company), which is a Mormon-owned establishment that dominated the Vegas sign industry for years. I remember as a kid seeing the YESCO logo on all these signs, and I had fantasies of calling them up to ask if I could get a small version of the original 1970s neon Holiday Inn hotel sign recreated for placement in my backyard.

One of the designers contracted by YESCO was Betty Willis, who was one of the first female sign designers employed by the company in the 1950s. She designed a number of renowned city landmarks, including the ubiquitous “Welcome To Las Vegas” sign and the signs for a number of hotels and motels like the Moulin Rouge & the Blue Angel Motel. The Blue Angel continues to be a Vegas landmark, though is not very angelic but actually a very dodgy establishment located in a rough part of downtown.

Enjoy this journey into vintage Vegas future past present.

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Blue Angel Motel sign on the street, which was designed by Betty Willis.

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Blue Angel Motel sign on the building, also designed by Betty Willis.

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The large Betty Willis-design entrance to the Blue Angel Motel.

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The Downtowner Motel in downtown Las Vegas

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The Holiday Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard South

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A view of the White Sands Motel

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The Glass Pool Inn is named after their above ground pool that had glass windows in it. Featured in Robert Plant’s “Big Log” music video, the motel is gone but the sign still exists on the property. It will soon be transported to The Boneyard.

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The Towne & Country Motel

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The Motel 8 (not 8 Motel)

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The Desert Star Motel

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The Silver Slipper from the now defunct, Silver Slipper Hotel Home of Boylesque, starring Kenny Kerr impersonating Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross, Carol Channing et. al. Boylesque was a resident drag show that started in 1977. I remember seeing comedic commercials by Boylesque performers usually late at night promoting the Silver Slipper hotel and their cheap breakfasts … “Pigs in a blanket at the Silver Slipper.”

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The Yucca Motel was demolished in 2010. The sign now resides at the Neon Boneyard Museum.

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The Ferguson’s Motel in downtown Las Vegas

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The Western Hotel downtown

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Pool & Coffee

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The Gables Motel

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The Tod Motor Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard South

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The Frontier Hotel

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The Desert Moon Motel

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The Par-A-Dice Motel in downtown Las Vegas

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The Diamond Inn Motel

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The Desert Oasis Motel

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The Las Vegas Blvd South

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The Somerset House Motel

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A color TV sign from the White Sands Motel

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The High Hat Regency Motel

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An unidentified motel

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The “Welcome To Las Vegas” Sign, designed by Betty Willis

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The original Neon Holiday Inn sign

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All images copyright the photographer

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