Last month, we busted the myth that the Las Vegas Strip has official boundaries, In that edition, we mentioned that the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas (WTFLV) sign could get moved several miles southward to accommodate the Strip’s inevitable future expansion.
The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is shown today. Make a mental note of how far away Mandalay Bay looks in the background. It will come in handy later. (Image: lasvegasthenandnow.com)
Why didn’t we mention the fact that the sign already had been moved southward since its 1959 installation, for the same reason? Because that’s a myth.
Sometime in the summer of 1959, the WTFLV sign was installed by the Western Electric Displays sign company, better known as Western Neon. The idea to officially welcome motorists from Southern California came from the company’s salesman, Ted Rogich, and the design was drawn by its commercial artist, Betty Willis.
They wanted something that would identify Las Vegas and be as exciting and welcoming as they could get,” Willis told a blogger for the Neon Museum shortly before her 2015 death. “We put flashing lights, chasing neon, and everything we could to put action into it. The whole theme of the sign was to make people feel welcome.”
The Riviera sign in September 1961. (Image: vintagelasvegas.com)
Primary design inspiration came from the sign at the Riviera. The letters W-E-L-C-O-M-E were presented as silver dollars, the kind that came gushing out of a slot machine in the jackpot everybody hoped for at the time.
Instead of the Riv sign’s triangle, Willis went with a standard hotel key fob as her sign’s main shape.
The WTFLV sign was installed next to the old entrance to McCarran Field, today’s Harry Reid International Airport. This location was chosen because it happened to be the southernmost cutoff for casino resort development at the time. Pretty much everything beyond that was untouched desert.
However, development has moved southward along Las Vegas Boulevard in the decades since. So, some people incorrectly assume, the sign must have moved along with it.
The myth of the traveling WTFLV sign was first reported as fact by a 1998 story published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that was never retracted or uploaded to the internet. Yet, it was influential enough to earn a reference in the sign’s registration form for its 2009 designation with the National Register of Historic Places.
“There have been reports that the sign was moved,” the form read, noting that there was no documentation with Clark County or YESCO (the sign’s current owner) verifying this.
In fact, there is photographic evidence proving that it was never moved. You just have to know where and how to look for it.
In this first known photo of the WTFLV sign, the Hacienda, inset, the casino hotel occupying the future site of Mandalay Bay, can be seen in the background. (Image and inset: vintagelasvegas.com)
Mandalay Bay stands 0.4 miles, or 2,112 feet, to the north of the sign today. So did the Hacienda casino hotel, which was demolished on Dec. 31, 1996, to build Mandalay Bay.
In the background of the first known photo of the WTFLV sign, snapped by an unknown tourist in September 1959, the Hacienda looks farther away than the Mandalay Bay does in modern photos. But that’s only an illusion created because the original Hacienda was a three-story structure, while Mandalay Bay is more than 14 times taller.
This proves that the WTFLV sign was installed in the exact location where it stands today, because if the sign were ever moved, the Hacienda would appear closer in the old photo.
The Nevada State Journal reports on the Clark County Commission’s request for proposals to build the new sign on Feb. 6, 1959. (Image: newspapers.com)
As with many myths, this one flourished in a scarcity of information about its subject.
In fact, the reason we had to write that the sign was installed “sometime in the summer of 1959” is that no one knows for sure when this event happened, since it wasn’t considered an event at all.
Back then, no one knew the WTFLV sign would become the global icon that it is today, second in sign fame only to Hollywood’s. So no ceremonies were held to commemorate its groundbreaking, completion, unveiling, or lighting.
There aren’t even any known photos of its construction.
After its approval by the Clark County Commission on May 5, 1959, no mention was even made of the sign by any newspaper until months after it was already up and flashing.
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