Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2023

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The magic of neon

Magician Steve Wyrick has something very pronounced stretching across the red wall of his living room. It dwarfs his fireplace and drives up his electric bill.

It is the twinkling restored Landmark hotel sign that once lit the porte-cochere of the now-imploded resort. Accompanying it is Vegas Vic waving perpetually atop the old kinetic Valley Motel sign hanging in the 9,000-square-foot Summerlin home.

"My passion is neon. I love neon," Wyrick says, as a blue Caesars Palace "E" flickers. His collection - which he jokingly refers to as his "Lonnie Hammargren starter kit," a reference to the former lieutenant governor and eccentric, eclectic collector - has cost him a half-million dollars. Wyrick began with an old Algiers sign and quickly graduated to a desire for something "real big, real wild."

They hang above leather sofas and curvy chairs and alongside 19th and 20th century stone lithographs of famous magicians. Some are tucked away in a warehouse. Recent acquisitions include the gold and green Lucky Motel and the faded brown and pink Jackpot Motel from Fremont Street.

Some are as large as small automobiles. Removing them takes half a day. Three trucks, two cranes and a full team of employees from Casino Lighting and Sign were needed to dismantle the Lucky sign.

A vertical motel sign coming down this week - he won't say where - will hang on a curved wall encasing his spiral staircase.

"Most people would never go to the expense," says Joe DeJesus, vice president of Casino Lighting and Sign. "You really have to have a passion to commit those kinds of dollars."

DeJesus says restoring the Valley Motel sign was two or three times more expensive than it was to build it.

"Steve is a fanatic of authenticity. So we had to search the country for old colors of neon that aren't made anymore."

Once down, casings are bleached, gutted of bird droppings and feathers, sanitized, rewired and hauled to Wyrick's home. Weathered paint is untouched.

"I love the dings, the dents and the rust because to me that's the true history of the signs," Wyrick says.

The Valley Motel sign was brought into his home in thirds, and required a new wall of sheetrock, steel studs and hanging brackets.

"You can't imagine how much that thing weighs," Wyrick says, standing near a bright yellow wall. After massive rewiring in his wall, Wyrick now just flicks a light switch and turns on the neon. His dream is to build a home designed to showcase the collection and to cantilever the signs so both sides are always visible. His bigger dream is to show them in a public setting.

He's always on the hunt: "I am working on the sleeping giant, the holy grail of neon' " he says, smiling and rubbing his hands together.

"The Sands."