Thursday, November 10, 2011


Vegas neon evokes images of glittering stardust, sprinkling down from the heavens to fill our lives with luck and dreams coming true...
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I don't know what you do in Vegas, but I take pictures of signs
Las Vegas has to be the capitol of googie signage.  The 'stardust' theme seems to come to mind here.
The time frame for googie architecture is from about 1949 to 1967 when mid-century modern was the dominant style.  Post-modern with it's fake facades and plastic flowers put an end to googie except in Las Vegas.  It seems googie never really went out of style.  The symbol for Las Vegas is the welcome sign down by the airport, which was built in 1959.
That sign is a tourist destination, available only by tour bus.  It is fenced in and has it's own parking lot.  Though people look at you funny when you say the word googie to them thinking you meant google, the same people know what googie is.  Folks just don't know that it has a name.  Stardust is a promise of dreams fulfilled and life in the stratosphere.  Las Vegas' pre-occupation with keeping people in the casinos until their fortunes have been transferred from the 99 percent suckers to the one percent casino owners is the reason the idea of stardust exists.  In  the 1950's, stardust spread first from Disneyland's world of tomorrow exhibit where it started, to LA, and quickly to Las Vegas where it took root and spread everywhere else.  Soon the stardust theme was over every doorway and in front of almost every one horse motel.  The other themes that also spread from Las Vegas was neon wild west motifs which some have nicknamed "glitter gultch" and gigantic-ism.  Check out the huge neon girl or the glowing red slipper.
CFL's have taken over even in the signage of Vegas
Fremont street in Downtown Las Vegas seemed to embrace the illusion that it was a wild west spaceport of the future, where fortunes could be had for the lucky.  The neon glow promised a civilization and excitement on the wild side of life, and people came from all over to this desert oasis and bought into the illusion at high cost.  The neon light attracted the people like moths.  The free shows, cheap hotel rooms and free meals among other sin city amenities kept people there, and kept them coming back for more.
A look at Halloween amongst the Neon of Fremont Street in Las Vegas
Kansas City seems to figure into this prominently.  For one thing, Howard Hughes and Walt Disney both had ties to KC.  Walt had his first start (and failure) in his career in KC.  His original Laugh O' Gram studio rots and languishes at 31st and Troost.  Mortimer Mouse, (later Mickey Mouse) was dreamed up in that studio.  The hardships in KC, not too far from his hometown in Marcelline, taught him he needed to seek his fortunes in LA.  Walt's friend, Howard Hughes established his airline, TWA here in KC.  In 1955, Howard built the world headquarters TWA building in what we now call the Kansas City crossroads at 18th and Baltimore, complete with a TWA Moonliner rocket on the roof -- a landmark googie artifact.  The Moonliner was a gift to his friend, Walt Disney, for his Tomorrowland exhibit in his new park in Anaheim California.  The space age signage and themes spread out from the World of Tomorrow, out to the coffee shops, motels, bowling alleys and gas stations, up route 66, and into Vegas where the casinos, looking for bigger and better and brighter ways to bring moths to their flame, embraced the googie theme and never let go, adding the stardust element to it.  Howard Hughes died a reclusive hermit.  Googie died everywhere except in Vegas -- a victim of the flower childrens' disillusionment with a mechanized modern world and new romantic notions of coming back to nature.
Architects stopped building glass blocks, and started putting masonry back into sky scrapers -- if only in the form of a curtain veneer.  Post-modern became a plastic cheap veneer finish put on top of the modern framework of our buildings and our society.  Things became not what they were, but what they wanted to be.
In the 1990's, all of the old school Vegas strip casinos were imploded to make way for bigger brighter more modern facades.  I would call a lot of the neon and signage on this part of the strip, post-modern, except that it isn't. 
It is a continuation -- and un-broken lineage of the signage and themes up on Fremont.  Now there are led lights and high resolution displays.  There are mono-rails and super modern hotels and malls.  My favorite place to visit on the strip is the Cosmopolitan.  
It seems to be the most genuine architectural expression on the strip.  
The places like New York, New York and Paris seem to be pure tourist traps.  
Their fakeness would be nauseating to me if it weren't for the fact that they too are homages to Walt Disney, and his theme park in Anaheim.  As a matter of fact, in many ways they are very honest in their intentions, as Las  Vegas has become and adult Disneyland of sorts.  Families come to Vegas along with tour groups.
If you've ever watched the movie, Casino, and if you are familiar with the real history behind the fictionalized movie, you would know, also, that there is this under wold tie that Kansas City has to Las Vegas.  The murders of the Spero brothers in the River Quay war in KC was what the FBI was investigating, when they discovered that there really was a mafia control over casinos in Vegas.  That lead to the end of the old Vegas, and the beginning of the new 'amusement park' Vegas.  
It wasn't long after that that corporate control over the fortunes of Vegas institutionalized and then spread stardust to every corner of the US.  Now you don't have to travel to Vegas to gamble Jr's college fund away.  I think that ultimately is why Vegas has become such an amusement park, and why the stardust googie theme will never go away.  It is having a popular resurgence everywhere, as a matter of fact.

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