VIDEO VAULT | Iconic Blue Angel statue still not back on display as previously planned
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
A classic piece of Mid-century sign architecture torn down last March was planned to be restored and on display by now. But it hasn't happened.
The figure in question has been in the news many times over the decades, including a 1997 Channel 3 ride-along with the publishers of the now-defunct Monk Magazine.
“We started at what the Monks call a Vegas icon,” reported Nina Radetich. “Yes, the Blue Angel Motel.”
“She, as you see, is the first thing you see as you come down Fremont Street, you know,” explained James Crotty (a.k.a. Jim Monk). “The beacon of goodness.”
The Blue Angel Motel had broken ground at Fremont and Charleston in 1957, and was sold two years later for a whopping $1 million. The building was nothing special. but the statue above it was an eye-catcher.
“It's such a wonderful, colorful, whimsical example of a sculptural sign,” says Cynthia Warso. “You know she was in three dimensions--hovering over the street, so to speak. And it was really fun to see.”
Warso is the Director of Education and Engagement at the Neon Museum, home to the classic Moulin Rouge sign which--like the Blue Angel--is the creation of Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) designer Betty Willis.
“It really wasn't all about her,” says Warso, summarizing Willis. “I think that as a woman in the sign design industry mid-century, she was somewhat of a trailblazer. She was very humble about that. So, I think about her personal style through her hard work and her perseverance.”
As magnificent as the Moulin Rouge sign and the Blue Angel sculpture are, Willis is most remembered for perhaps the best-known design in Las Vegas history.
“This is the sign she was talking about that has made me an international celebrity,” Willis told a group of visiting design students in 2002, holding up a sketch of the structure installed on a Las Vegas Boulevard median just south of Russell Road in 1959.
“To have a sign that you designed on the National Register of Historic Places like the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign says a lot.” marvels Warso. “About the quality of her work and about its appeal over time.”
By the time Channel-3 visited the Blue Angel in 1997, lower Fremont Street was getting somewhat disreputable. Drug sales and prostitution were frequently found among the low-rise motels.
The Blue Angel finally closed in 2011 and the statue was removed from its pedestal six years later. At the time, the City of Las Vegas said the Angel was headed to YESCO for restoration. Today, Sky-3 finds her dormant in the Las Vegas Operations and Maintenance yard on Ronemus at Peak.
Original plans to bring the Blue Angel back into good condition were stymied by bureaucracy. City regulations prevented the contract from simply being handed to YESCO without a competitive bid process. Right now, the City of Las Vegas is developing a Request for Proposals. Once the RFP is published, a vendor will be chosen for the restoration and plans will go back into motion.
A City spokesperson tells News 3 that the Blue Angel will be re-located to an unspecified location at or near the “Five Points” --where Eastern, Fremont and 25th Street all come together.
The prospect of restoration is good news for those who appreciate the characteristics that the Blue Angel shares with her creator, Betty Willis.
“She represents a lot of hard working individuals in this town, and the opportunities that those individuals take advantage of here,” muses Warso. “And that's what we love about Las Vegas.”
Betty Willis passed away in 2015 at age 91. The City of Las Vegas does not have a date set for the return of a restored Blue Angel statue, but expects it to be “sometime in the first half of 2018”.