Welcome to Las Vegas

[VR Morph by Howard Goldbaum]

In any list of Las Vegas icons, the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign ranks high. Its mastermind, Betty Willis, was a commercial artist in the 1940s who started designing neon signs in the 1950s for Thomas Young's YESCO and other sign makers. She was working for the Western Neon sign company in 1959 when she came up with the seven silver dollars and the flickering, two-toned eight-point star. Her inspiration was her father, S. R. Whitehead, a Las Vegas pioneer and Clark County's first tax assessor. Salesman Ted Rogich, father of legendary Nevada political consultant Sig Rogich, sold the sign to Clark County for $4,000; the money went to the company, not to Willis.

A decade later in the early 1970s, county officials began to feel that the sign was kitschy, but when they discussed tearing it down, local residents objected. Today, the sign is probably the most famous logo associated with Las Vegas. Because it is located on the Strip south of Tropicana, and therefore outside the city limits of Las Vegas, the city copied Willis's creation in the 1990s, adding "Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas" to a sign that was erected on a lot between Las Vegas Boulevard South and Fourth Street near the Stratosphere Tower. The sign also appeared on a wealth of memorabilia associated with the Las Vegas centennial celebration in 2005.

These images of the sign also attest to the evolution of the Las Vegas Strip. At the time the original photo was taken during the 1960s, the sign was located on the median of the highway to Los Angeles, a few hundred yards south of the Hacienda Hotel Casino; the Dunes Hotel Casino and its tower are visible in the background. Today, the end of the Strip has edged southward, with the forty-story Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino replacing the imploded Hacienda in the immediate background, its tower and signage joining with other hotels to obscure the hotel that now occupies the site of the demolished Dunes, the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. The Strip has changed; the sign and its message remain the same.

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