The sign that wishes you “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” is found at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South, just north of the stone pillars remaining from the old McCarran Airport. Just like most of The Strip, the sign is not located within the city limits of Las Vegas but in the town of Paradise.
Designed by Betty Willis, the sign was placed there in 1959. Half a century later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The 50 year celebration of the sign included pool parties, a large bikini parade and a runway-style retrospective in front of the sign showing bathing suits from the last 50 years.
As a part of the 100 year celebrations of the City of Las Vegas in 2005, a special Nevada license plate was issued that included an image of the sign.
Accessing the sign
On December 2008, a small parking lot was opened near the sign to improve traffic safety. Prior to the construction of the parking lot, visitors were crossing the northbound or southbound lane of Las Vegas Boulevard on foot to get close to the sign, even though there was no crosswalk, traffic signal or pedestrian bridge to aid them. While this hadn’t really been a problem in the past, the sharp increase of motor traffic at the south end of The Strip was causing an increasingly precarious situation near the sign.
When the new parking lot was opened in 2008, it consisted of 10 standard parking spaces, two handicap spaces, and two large spaces for big vehicles such as buses and limousines. This parking lot proved to be so popular that Clark County Commission decided to add 20 more parking spaces to it at a cost of $500,000.
In April, 2015, traffic signals and marked crosswalks were put in place to help pedestrians cross Las Vegas Boulevard where the sign is.
Information about the sign
The sign is a 25-foo-tall sign in the form of a horizontal lozenge. The top and and bottom angles are pointy, while the left and right angles are rounded. The sign in double-backed and internally lit, and sports a border of flashing and chasing yellow light bulbs outside around the perimeter.
The sign is mounted offset on two flat poles which are joined by a crosspiece at the top. The poles stick up well above the top of the sign, placing the crosspiece in clear view from all sides. Just under the crosspiece is a prominent eight-pointed red-painted metal star outlined with yellow neon. Parts of the start extends beyond the poles and the crosspiece, giving the star a dynamic, explosive feel.
The white neon circles that run across the top of the sign represents silver dollars, a references to Nevada’s old nickname “The Silver State”. Each “silver dollar” on the sign contains a red painted letter, together spelling out the word W E L C O M E.
On the white sign cabinet, to Fabulous is painted in blue in as 1950s-style cursive. On the line below, LAS VEGAS is painted with red, bold capitalized letters. Under this, NEVADA is painted in blue, using a considerably smaller font than the one used for LAS VEGAS.
The north side of the sign is considered the back side, and is much less frequently photographed. Instead of welcoming travelers to Las Vegas it says DRIVE CAREFULLY – Come Back SOON. There are no “silver dollars” on the north side of the sign.
History of the sign
The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was erected by Western Neon in 1959. The sign was designed by graphic designer Betty Willis who worked as a neon sign designer at Weston Neon. Her ambition was to create a sign that was unique in both shape, style and content. The sign was soon sold to Clark County, Nevada.
In October 4, 1991 the sign went dark and remained unlit for about a month. It was eventually found out that the electrical bill had not been paid, and the electricity had been turned off as a result. The company that had been handling the payments in the past had recently been purchased by another company, which did not pay the bill on time. Once the problem was discovered, the bill – amounting to less than $60 – was paid and the electricity was turned on again.
91 year old Betty Willis died in her Nevada home on April 19, 2015. The following month, Clark County commissioners declared May 5th ‘Betty Willis Day’.
Neither Betty Willis, nor the Western Neon, ever copyrighted the sign. When interviewed, Betty Willis explained that she saw the design as a gift to to the city and wanted it to be in the public domain.
The sign is currently owned by Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) and leased by Clark County.