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The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign
The Las Vegas Strip is world-famous, and perhaps no site on that well-known street is as famous as the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. This historic landmark has greeted visitors since 1959 and has starred in countless tourist photographs over the years. Replicas are popular souvenirs.
Many icons, both past and present, are associated with Las Vegas, from Elvis (and his many impersonators) and the Rat Pack to Sigfried and Roy, Penn & Teller, the Bellagio fountains , and the Stratosphere Tower. Out of all them, perhaps the most enduring and well-known is the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign that greets visitors as they approach the famous Las Vegas Strip . Although its front is its most famous part, its back is inscribed with the farewell phrases, "Drive Carefully" and "Come Back Soon."
The sign was erected in 1959, with no intention of having it become such a huge tourist draw, although its designer did hope it would bring more traffic to the city. Her name was Betty Willis, and she also created such icons as the Moulin Rouge hotel sign in her work at the Western Neon Company. She drew on inspiration from memories of her late father, S. R. Whitehead, a prominent figure in the city and the first Clark County tax assessor, who passed away 18 years prior to the landmark's construction. It only cost $4,000 when originally constructed.
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign was placed in a difficult to access location, with no nearby parking and hard to navigate curbs in the busy roadway. People soon began jaywalking to get to it for photos, or simply stopping in the traffic lanes. Those challenges were remedied with the addition of a 12-car parking lot and modifications to provide easy access for everyone, including disabled visitors, since two of the spots are reserved for handicapped parking.
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign's design harkens back to its origins in the atomic era of the 1950s, with a star that has a design easily recognizable as coming from that period. Its official style is that of the Googie Architecture movement of the 1940s through the 1960s.
The colors of the 25 foot tall sign are red, white, blue, and gold, with red and blue letters on a white background. As befits any sign on the Las Vegas Strip, the sign lights up with a neon glow, as well as a multitude of regular bulbs, at night. Neon rings the circles containing the letters that spell out "Welcome," and the rings are meant to represent silver dollars. The sign's lettering is also outlined in neon.
The original "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign is located at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South, and it's often considered to be the end point of the neon-studded Las Vegas Strip's southern boundary. Ironically, the sign, like most of the Strip, is not actually in Las Vegas but in the town of Paradise, which is four miles away from the official city boundary.
If you're in a car, you can get into the parking lot by driving south on Las Vegas Boulevard, heading toward the Las Vegas Outlet Center. You can also reach the sign by walking if you're exploring the Strip on foot. It's just south of the Mandalay Bay Casino .
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign has appeared in countless movies and tourist photographs, and it's had its share of notable events. In October, 1999, it suddenly went dark due to a mix-up in payment of the electric bill that powers its famous neon. It was darkened again on March 28, 2009, although this time it was on purpose as part of the Earth Day celebration.
In April, 2010, the sign had its famous wording changed for the first time ever. A cover placed over it for a special promotional campaign said "Welcome to Fabulous Camp Vegas." The cover was removed after 36 hours, and the ceremony that went along with the related marketing campaign included celebrities like Wayne Newton, plus skydivers and showgirls.
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign is also an officially recognized landmark. It earned a place in the National Register of Historic Places on May 1, 2009.
Souvenirs featuring the sign are classics, sold at countless gift stores since the landmark's design is in the public domain. You can buy old light bulbs after they're removed from the sign, and all proceeds go to charity.