Las Vegas Sun

August 29, 2014

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History on the move

We were breaking the rules.

They were kind enough to unlock the gates, welcome us into the Neon Museum Boneyard and ask only that we didn't take photographs. But here we were, bootlegging the Boneyard, all of us. Unapologetically. The mystique was overwhelming and everyone with a pocket-sized digital camera felt entitled to its history.

"Interesting, isn't it?" says a man crunching over the gravel behind the Barbary Coast sign, stopping only to look back at the King from the Coin Castle that once towered over Fremont Street.

Interesting was an understatement. Interesting doesn't reflect the salivating nature of the visitors who long dreamed to be inside the lot. Or the fact that they broke from last-minute Christmas shopping to be here.

More than 400 people trampled the grounds Saturday. Some to reminisce, others to get their first look at the retired goods. But it was the sleeping giant behind the locked gates in the neighboring yard that had squinting visitors asking each other:

"Is that the La Concha?"

Some peeked over the fence to look at the chunks resting on the cracking wood that occasionally would sound out a loud pop. One crate gave way and crumbled a small corner of a section of the early '60s motel lobby designed by Paul Revere Williams.

Word had spread about La Concha's middle-of-the-night ride down Las Vegas Boulevard to its new home, where it will eventually be reconstructed and serve as a visitors center.

From Las Vegas Boulevard, its swooping overhangs looked more like the hoofs of a fallen animal.

"Everyone's been asking about La Concha," says Brian "Paco" Alvarez, curator of the Neon Museum.

Allen Sandquist strolled the Boneyard's pathways flanked by the tin wonders of Las Vegas' past. He comes here often. But today he had his mind on La Concha. A Las Vegas resident since 1979, this was more than Las Vegas history, it was an old friend.

He had watched construction crews lift the first piece last week.

"I held my breath until they got done cutting through it," Sandquist says, standing near the fence that encases the Googie curves. Saturday was his first time seeing La Concha's body parts in their new home. He planned to be here the day before, but instead stopped by the old site to snap a picture of the empty lot.

The Neon Museum raised a lot of money for this move. Rough estimate: $400,000. The museum has until the end of next year to piece it back together and form it into a visitors center.

"I wish it could have been preserved on its original site," Sandquist says. "But I would rather have it here than see it demolished."

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