Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2014

preservation:

To celebrate icon’s 50th birthday, movement afoot for national recognition

Image

Las Vegas Sign

Legendary Las Vegas neon sign designer Betty Willis, known for her world-famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, talks about how she created her illustrious masterpiece and the significance of each of the sign's various symbols.

Tourists from all over the world pose for photos under the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

The iconic image of mid-20th century Las Vegas, designed to greet visitors driving into town from California, has been reproduced on, well, nearly everything.

It turns 50 next year.

To show that it has become far more than a clever marketing tool, Clark County officials are working to have the sign listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mostly honorary title would link it to other listed relics and sites in Clark County, including Hoover Dam, the Huntridge Theatre, the Spanish Trail and the Las Vegas Mormon Fort.

The listing wouldn’t protect the sign, which is owned by Young Electric Sign Co., but it would bring attention to one of the city’s greatest cultural heritages: neon.

“It’s a good way to make people aware of historic resources in this town, especially signs, which are so few and so precious,” says Dorothy Wright, program administrator for the county’s parks and recreation department, who is heading the project.

In some cases, she says, they are the only physical evidence of our past.

Wright says paperwork for the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, designed in 1959 by Betty Willis, will be submitted next month to the State Historic Preservation Office.

Staff members at that office will look over the submission, then send it to the National Park Service, which oversees the program that recognizes sites, structures and other elements of historical, architectural, archaeological or cultural significance.

“It certainly has national, if not international significance,” Wright says of the sign.

Owners of structures listed as national historic sites are not required to preserve them. Green Shack — the area’s oldest restaurant when it closed in 1999 — was listed when it was demolished. Moulin Rouge, also listed, was never restored and preserved.

Young Electric Sign, however, ardently maintains the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, and the county is building a small parking lot on the median to allow for safer photo shoots.

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