Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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La Concha lobby restoration to continue at Neon Museum

Las Vegas City Council releases $300,000 more for $1.5 million project


Leila Navidi

Workers from Dean Concrete work on the structure of the La Concha Motel lobby in downtown Las Vegas. The La Concha will serve as the entry and gift shop for the Neon Museum.

La Concha (February 2008)

Workers from Dean Concrete work on the structure of the La Concha Motel lobby in downtown Las Vegas. The La Concha will serve as the entry and gift shop for the Neon Museum. Launch slideshow »

The Las Vegas City Council took another step forward today toward the creation of a visitors' center for the city's Neon Museum - and restoring the La Concha Motel lobby that was moved about two years ago to the Neon Boneyard.

"I'm hoping we'll be able to start construction within the next couple of months and be open for business hopefully by the spring or early summer of 2011," said Bill Marion, chairman of the Neon Museum's board of directors.

As part of several routine items approved in one vote, the city council unanimously approved the release of $300,000 to the museum.

It will be used for the restoration and the reconstruction of the interior of the conch-inspired La Concha as a "visitors/education/interpretive center" for the museum and for building an addition to it for a visitors' center and ticket office. The estimated $1.5 million project has received funds from a variety of private and government sources, Marion said.

The $300,000 in funds was generated by ongoing sales of commemorative Las Vegas centennial license plates (the ones with the city's welcome sign) set up to raise funds for the Las Vegas Centennial Commission, Marion said.

"Even though the city celebrated its centennial a couple of years ago, these plates are still generating funds," Marion said. And the centennial commission provides funding for projects that celebrate the history of Las Vegas, he said.

The La Concha, with its thin-shelled, undulating concrete roofline was part of that history.

The former motel, designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American inducted into the American Institute of Architecture, operated on the Las Vegas Strip from 1961 to 2003 almost adjacent to the Riviera Hotel and Casino. (Williams was also the architect for the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas' Guardian Angel Cathedral, just east of the Strip on Desert Inn Road.)

Fred Doumani, who owned La Concha, offered to donate the lobby to the Neon Museum if enough money could be raised to take it down and move it. To get the building under the U.S. 95 overpass, the building had to be cut into eight pieces.

"The transportation of it and the reconstruction of it was somewhere around $600,000," Marion said. Private donations and an earlier $300,000 grant from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority paid for that phase, which took place in 2007 and 2008.

The next phase is to construct an addition to the La Concha that will house administrative and support services.

A new architect was to officially sign onto the project today: Patrick Klenk, owner of Westar Architectural Group, Las Vegas, who also did the architectural work on the city's Historic Fifth Street School.

Marion said architectural design for the addition will have to be approved by the city and the State Office of Historic Preservation, which has also provided money to the museum for the La Concha restoration.

Once that is done, it can be put out for bid for construction, he said.

Currently, there is construction going on at the Neon Museum area, he said. They have moved all of the signs from the south part of the Boneyard to the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority parking lot so they can still be available for photo shoots and scheduled tours, he said.

The city is also constructing the Neon Boneyard Park, which is adjacent to the Neon Museum. Paving work is also being done on the restoration of the Boneyard, he said.

When the visitors' center is complete, the public will have better access to viewing the more than 160 neon signs in the Boneyard, he said.

"The only access to the Neon Museum has been a scheduled tour or if you wanted to pay for a photo shoot," Marion said. "By opening up a visitors' center, what we'll be able to do is be open like a regular museum so people can come in on a walk-in basis and take either a self-guided tour or join a tour. It will make this a facility that you don't have to book in advance."

The visitors center will also have a gift shop for mementos and souvenirs, which will allow the museum to generate some revenue, he said.

Parts of the Neon Boneyard will be kept in a "rustic state," which has been attractive for locations for film and TV shoots, he said. At least 15 bridal groups a month want to take some of their photos in the Boneyard, he said.

Some of the signs will be placed inside medians along North Las Vegas Boulevard, from Washington Avenue south to Sahara Boulevard as part of a federal scenic byways grant. Three signs have already been installed.

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