The La Concha sign, illuminated and restored to its former glory, is what most people notice when walking into the Neon Boneyard for the first time. My eyes however, were immediately drawn to the Sahara’s presence. I’m pretty sure this particular sign was created for a remodel of the Vegas relic during the ’90s. A Neon Museum volunteer thought so too, but things were too busy to confirm on this night of the Boneyard’s fully lit dress rehearsal for members of the media and invited guests.
I noticed the Sahara’s sign because I’ve always loved the place. I spent a significant amount of my childhood there. My father worked at the Sahara as a bellman (not bellboy, or bellhop if you know what’s good for you) from 1981 to 2001. I visited him through all the different periods of my childhood and got to know the life of the hotel very well. I was sad to see it close. My mother worked at a few other Strip resorts and I got to know and love them too, Caesars Palace remaining to this day my all-time-favorite Las Vegas resort. Caesars just exudes authentic Las Vegas charm and class. I’m glad it’s still standing. And I am glad the Neon Museum is standing for all those that aren’t anymore. I strongly encourage everyone to make a visit. As I enjoyed making my first visit and taking the Boneyard tour knowing as little about the museum as possible, the only insight I will share with you is this: be on the lookout for the pirate’s skull!
When I heard that Brian “Buzz” Leming was on hand and willing to answer questions, I jumped at the chance to interview him. He was part of the original design team who created the signage for Caesars. He also worked on quite a few other projects downtown, on and off the Strip. But I’ll let him tell you about this and his thoughts on the completion of the Neon Museum in his own words.
Can you tell us about your early years as a designer in Las Vegas?
I went to work for YESCO on April 14, 1964. I worked with Jack Larsen, Kermit Wayne, Ben Mitchum and Hermon Boernge. They were four of the finest designers in the industry at the time. They were the guys doing all the stuff downtown. Caesars was just one project we worked on. Back then we used to build models. We had a bunch of Roman soldiers and columns. Kermit Wayne came up with the actual design of the sign. The rest of us just pitched in and we all built the model. I actually had very little to do with that sign.
Which other properties did you work on?
I did the Fremont Hotel, the Las Vegas Club, the Coin Castle, California Hotel, Westward Ho, Sahara, Rio, The Barbary Coast…twice, Gold Coast and the Cannery. That’s a few. It’s been a great career. A lot of good times, a lot of fun too.
How has design work changed over the years?
It kind of got ruined for me when we got into computers. I am not a computer [based] designer; I’m a sketcher. I draw. Nowadays they won’t let you do that anymore. If they bring you in on a job on Monday, they want to see some ideas on Tuesday. You almost have to be on a computer to be that fast. But don’t get me wrong, guys that know how to design with computers do a great job.
What do you think of the Neon Museum in general?
It’s pretty amazing. I can’t believe they pulled it off. I started to get involved 21 years ago when they were at Lorenzi Park, but they couldn’t get any real interest. They would put up a few pieces, then people would go home and forget about it. Here, you have got everything from the 1930s up to the present. It’s hard to put a timeline on anything. You have a conglomeration of everything that has gone on in Las Vegas in the last 50 years, which is pretty incredible. Not many cities can say that and not that many cities make this kind of a change in 50 years. Las Vegas is a relatively new city having started in 1905. To most people in the Midwest and East Coast, 1905 is like yesterday.
I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It is going to be a big draw.
ArtsVegas: Covering Las Vegas Art and culture since 2009.