VIDEO VAULT | How Vegas transformed from an everyday town to the world's neon sign capital

Las Vegas is known as the "Entertainment Capital of the World." One can also make the argument that it is the "Sign Capital of the World", though it wasn't that way in the early decades.

"Fremont Street was a Main Street like so many others," says Martin True. "There really wasn't much difference between Fremont and a very small town."

Treu is an architect, author, graphic designer, self-described "urbanist" and a recent artist-in-residence at the Neon Museum, who has devoted much of his career to the study of signs.

"Not as individual artifacts isolated," clarifies Treu. "But as signs in context, as part of a suburban or urban experience."

"You saw projecting signs advertising cafes and cinemas, just the way you would see in any Main Street across America," says Treu, referring to the beginnings of Las Vegas on Fremont Street. "Except that in certain cities in America you would see larger versions of those same signs."

Las Vegas became a leader in sign innovation in the 1940s and 50s, when the Strip started to boom and neon was introduced to the craft.

"It allowed you to make any shape you wanted to," explains Treu. "Really in way the bulbs are a bit cumbersome to fill unusual shapes."

A 1986 News-3 profile made it clear that the neon signs were not created by factory machines, but by skilled artisans like Abel Seldeno.

"You have to have the dedication, because it takes a lot of patience to learn," said Seldeno. "If you don't have that patience, you're not gonna learn."

By then Seldeno had been crafting the signs for 30 years, 18 of which had been in Las Vegas.

"I worked at so many different neon shops and out of every one I always picked up a little experience a little trick here and there," he explained while demonstrating his craft to News-3's Gwen Castaldi. "And as a matter of fact I even picked up a trick from an apprentice. Something that was very valuable to me as far as bending glass. And I've always been grateful for that."

While neon changed the game, incandescent bulbs were used creatively, too. Long-gone examples include the animated free-standing Dunes sign on the Strip, as well as a classic design downtown.

"The Mint is noticeable for the way the vertical projecting sign which is typical along Main Street suddenly becomes much larger, then it sort of whips around, turns a corner and creates this big curve that becomes a canopy" describes Treu. "The Mint, I think is an amazing example of sign as architecture or architecture as sign. You really can't draw a boundary between the two."

As the times changed, many of these classic signs were replaced and deteriorated in the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO} "boneyard".

In 1994, News-3 visited YESCO and got the story behind the classic "Silver Slipper" that stood above the hotel of the same name.

"We had a little red-headed secretary in our shop there," said YESCO's Vaughan Cannon, Sr. "We took one of her shoes and filled it up with plaster of paris. Then we sliced it into horizontal slices to make our models for each section of this."

That giant silver slipper now marks the entrance to the Neon Museum, which opened in 2012, and became home to many of the refurbished signs from the YESCO boneyard. It's one of several that are out on the street that leads to the museum.

"Those were quite beautiful even though they weren't very big," says Treu. "The ones that have been placed along Las Vegas Boulevard going through the center of the city. Those really impress me. The animation. The creativity."

But the full experience is behind the former La Concha shell which was moved from the Strip to become the entrance to the Neon Museum.

"Because you're seeing it so close up, you see what went into creating these things," says Treu standing next to the giant sign which was once in front of the Stardust on the Strip. "And putting a human right up next to them, you realize what a formidable task it must have seemed to some of these crafters."

The Neon Museum provides multiple daily and nightly guided tours. In addition, many of the old signs have been placed not just on Las Vegas Boulevard, but on Fremont Street and a few other locations in the Resort Corridor.

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