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Neon Survey

About the Exhibit

 

This exhibit builds upon the great work that Josh Cannaday did in executing the neon survey. Its designer, David G. Schwartz, consulted with Josh and others in putting it together.

As the scholar associated with the neon survey project, Dr. Schwartz wanted to use the internet to educate the public about this undertaking.

Usually, project scholars deliver a lecture or publish an article in a scholarly journal. Dr. Schwartz felt that many propsective "users" of this survey would not be served by traditional scholarly creative outlets. He therefore received permission from the Neon Museum to publish the survey as an online exhibit from UNLV Special Collections.

The Center for Gaming Research is the unit within Special Collections that Dave directs. For more information, see the Center website, http://gaming.unlv.edu.

Conducting the Survey

The survey was divided into three phases. The first included Las Vegas Boulevard and its environs from Sunset Rd. to Sahara Blvd. The second will include the LV Blvd. corridor from Sahara to Fremont, the Fremont Street area, and section of the Boulder Strip and Charleston Blvd. The third, and most ambitious phase, will include the balance of Las Vegas and Clark County.

Having chosen to tackle phase one, the next step was to find some money to conduct the survey. Located in Las Vegas, which is in the heart of Nevada, the Nevada Humanities Committee seemed like a natural for such a project.

For those who don't know, applying for a grant is much harder than simply picking up the phone and asking for a little cash to tide you over until payday. The people who sponsor academic research like to know that their money is being well spent, so they have prospective researchers fill out applications.

The neon survey application, if you are interested, was about ten pages long, with a plethora of information on the applicant organization (Neon Museum), the proposed budget, and a detailed discourse on why the Neon Museum was uniquely suited to carry out this project, and why it was so important in the first place.

 

Why do a survey?

So why was this survey important? Well, because the signs we documented included some of the oldest and most siginificant signs still working in Las Vegas. Even though when many people think of neon when they think of Las Vegas, precious little has been done to actually document the extent and nature of the neon signs of Las Vegas. This survey redresses that failure by providing historical and design information on nearly 100 signs in the Las Vegas Boulevard corridor.

The survey was actually executed by Josh Cannaday. Josh took all of the photographs included in this exhibit (except for the photos of him on this page, of course) and conducted exhaustive historical research into the signs.

As the project scholar, Dr. Schwartz's primary mission was to stay out of Josh's way and to facilitate his conducting the survey. He also designed this exhibit as a way of fulfulling the grant application's mission of making the information learned accessible to the general community.

The survey fit in well with Dr. Schwartz's other digital projects for the Center for Gaming Research, which illuminate various areas of the gaming and casino worlds. So it was easy to adapt the raw material of the survey to an online exhibit in the CGR's Virtual Museum.

About the survey tool

The 80+ surveys that make up this site were executed using a two-part survey tool. The first part of the tool was used to capture a physical description of the sign as artifact. The sign's location, condition, display type, and animation, among other things, were included in this section.

Essentially, this part of the survey is designed to preserve historical information about the signs of the Strip--something that is certainly important in a district as historically volatile as the Strip. There is little danger of the Liberty Bell, for example, being swapped out for an electronic alert system, but it is entirely possible that, within ten years, the signs of the Frontier and Stardust will be no more. There is nothing morally wrong with this--change is an essential part of any business, particularly the hospitality business. But it is important to preserve a record of these signs so that future generation can appreciate the incredible flowering of neon in Southern Nevada that began in the 1940s.

The second half of the survey is a little more subjective, as it describes a sign's artistic context. In addition to information about the sign's designer and manufacturer, this part of the survey includes comments on the artistic influences on the sign and its ultimate aesthetic significance for other signs and buildings. In this way, the survey provides raw data and the grist for future interpretation, as well as a descriptive guide to the world of Strip neon.

What the surveyor says

Finally, here is a description of the survey in the surveyor's words:

"The stretch of land on the western side of the Las Vegas Valley proclaims one of the most dazzling streets in the entire Western United States. Las Vegas Boulevard may perhaps be one of the most unique streets in the entire world. The electrifying spectaculars and pulsating neon and incandescent towers are a key factor in contributing to that uniqueness. Not only are they integral aesthetically,but worthy of cultural and historical significance in the continuing evolution of the city of Las Vegas. To even begin to note such a vast array of information, we must start somewhere. The Las Vegas Neon Museum is starting on this journey by conducting a survey of exterior neon signs on Las Vegas Blvd., from Sunset Rd., stretching north to Sahara Ave.

It is such a broad spectrum of information. Where does one begin? Once a survey tool was organized to collect the proper information, a variety of methods were utilized to attain such figures. A glossary of terms was also organized to collect a series of terminology that is consistent with the subject matter. Through research conducted with UNLV's Special Collections, the County's department of records, physical inspection, interviews with marketing and public relations officials of both surveyed properties and sign companies, a very firm grasp has been gained on the scope and impact of such a collection of items. All of the while the signs were visually documented then processed into the survey form.

The survey has provided me with a unique opportunity learn about the electric life that pumps through the heart of Las Vegas, and witness first hand up close the structures that facilitate them. My experiences are only the very first step in a series of research that could possibly blanket the entire valley, putting this so commonly associated genre of exterior aesthetics into a cultural and historical perspective."


Joshua Cannaday

To learn more about the survey tool, view the sample, which includes a point by point explanation.

 

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the funding of the Nevada Humanities Committee, whose grant made this survey possible. Thanks also to everyone from the Strip properties who helped in the collection of data, and anyone else who assisted along the way.

 

 

Josh Cannaday
Josh Cannaday ponders this survey.

The Major Players

Barbara Molasky
-President, Neon Museum

Sandra Harris
- Executive Director, Neon Museum

Richard Hooker
-Project Director

DD Nave
-Chair, Acquisitons Committee

Kris Darnall
-Nevada Humanities Committee

Josh Cannaday
-Surveyor

Dr. David G. Schwartz
-Project Scholar

Josh at work.
This sign is officially in bad shape.

 

 

 

 

The neon survey that you see in these pages started as the idea of the acquisitions committee of the Neon Museum, particularly Richard Hooker and DD Nave.The Neon Museum is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the history of Southern Nevada. It currently maintains a boneyard of historic signs and installs exhibits of refurbished signs in public spaces.

Plans are underway to build a permanent facility in Las Vegas. Its mission states:
We collect, preserve, study and exhibit neon signs and associated artifacts to inspire educational and cultural enrichment for diverse members of our international community.

For more information please go to www.neonmuseum.org.

 

Neon Survey Home | Survey Index, A to Z | Neon Gallery | About the Exhibit | Neon Glossary | Neon Museum

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Last modified Monday, 05-Apr-2010 11:26:02 PDT