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VIDEO VAULT | Young Vegas history enthusiast creates museum of city's history in own home

Young Las Vegas history enthusiast Austin Abell-Shepard, 20, has developed a prototype museum in his south valley home with historical items he's collected since he was 13. (Tom Hawley | KSNV)

For anyone interested in Las Vegas history, there are plenty of options beyond the Video Vault, with a wide variety of museums, interpretive parks, and exhibits. They are typically developed by experts with decades of experience.

The next museum here might just come from someone quite young, and relatively new to our area.

“Ever since I was seven I've been fascinated with Las Vegas history,” says Austin Abell-Shepard. “I actually started collecting when I was 13.”

Today, at age 20, Abell-Shepard has developed a prototype museum in his south valley home. The centerpiece is an interactive demolition of the Riviera hotel, using video he shot, himself, last year.

He demonstrates by pressing the plunger into a box. Rumbling sounds accompany the disintegration of the Riviera on a large-screen TV mounted on the wall, as Abell-Shepard explains his fascination.

“When I was about 7 years old, my dad showed me a documentary about Controlled Demolition Inc., about how they imploded all the casinos,” says Abell-Shepard. “So when we were kids, we would pretend to implode my playhouse. We would pull it down with weed-whacker.”

“Austin is taking his love for Las Vegas history and trying to channel it into something he can share with other people,” says the Neon Museum’s Maggie Mary. “He's got a good archival mind, a good collections management mind. Where he knows what objects are accurately reflecting those casinos.”

“Some of my favorites are I have a life preserver from the Desert Inn during the ‘50s, a brick from the original Flamingo building, you know that Bugsy Siegel opened,” enthuses Abell-Shepard. “The Caesars Palace Grand Opening scroll. That's one of my favorites.”

Abell-Shepard became acquainted with a couple of members of the Neon Museum management team at a social event, and the conversation paved the way for a possible future collaboration of sorts.

“As we move forward with our museum expansion and we create an indoor museum eventually, we would like to invite him to have a gallery in our space,” says Mary.

The result would essentially be a museum within a museum.

“I'd prefer to be with the Neon Museum at their expansion,” says Abell-Shepard. “But if that doesn't work out, I'll sell this house in 30 years and just buy a little shop.”

Clearly, he is thinking long term. The Neon Museum is still exploring options for an indoor display facility. If and when that happens, there's a good chance Abell-Shepard’s casino museum will be a part of it.

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