(updated April 17, 2021)
As the Las Vegans weres thinking about building a museum to preserve an important part of the community we began throwing notes in a file, “The first Neon sign in Las Vegas?”
The Neon Museum is now open and a worldwide success. https://www.neonmuseum.org/
As new details have surfaced regarding the early Neon history of Las Vegas we have updated our file.
For years, and still, on many websites, the Oasis Cafe is given the credit as having the first Neon sign in Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Club is named as the first casino to have a Neon sign.
Nope, in both cases.
While the Oasis Cafe, and the Las Vegas Club play important parts in the early history of Las Vegas, neither gets to wear the crown of —First Neon Sign.
First, a brief outline of the history of the Oasis. Then a moment with UCLA, and the Las Vegas Club, and then back to the Oasis.
1911 Oasis Opens
April 1, 1911, Page eight, Las Vegas Age “An Oasis in Las Vegas.” “Mr. and Mrs. G. H. French have opened a new confectionery store next to the Age office, to be called the “Oasis Candy Store.” All kinds of home-made candies are kept in stock as well as the factory-built article. Later in the season, a soda fountain will be installed and ice cream will be served. it is also probable that a shady bower will be made by means of vines where cooling refreshments may be served in the open air.”
1924 Oasis Moves
On April 5, 1924, the Las Vegas Age ran a one paragraph story on page six titled, “NEW OASIS A GEM.” The story said, “The Oasis is now fairly settled in its handsome new quarters in the Martin-Ferron building. the new store is a gem and will be much appreciated by the public.”
Pre-Neon Oasis sign – late 1920’s early 1930s’
Initially, the Oasis was a confectionery serving “candy & soda.” Hanging from the non-Neon light sign is a small globe providing the owners vistion of the future as a restaurant. At this point, it only serves “EATS.” In this case “eats” mean sandwiches or maybe fruits, or pastry, donuts.
Pre Neon Oasis Cafe sign. The post card printers code, lower right, 1A1840 indicates the post card was printed late in 1931.
Note the first Boulder Club Neon sign on the right side. In the background, on the south side of Fremont Street, is the tall Northern Club Neon sign.
A second “first” Neon story points to the Las Vegas Club, in 1931 as the first gambling club with a Neon sign.
Here are a few of the many statements, starting off with at a UCLA.edu, quote “the city’s first neon sign at the Oasis Cafe in 1929, the opening of a branch office of the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) in Las Vegas in 1933.” https://aeri.gseis.ucla.edu/AERI%202011%20Posters/aeri11_SB.pdf
Here are a few more;
- “Las Vegas’ first neon sign, designating the Oasis Cafe on Fremont Street, appeared in 1929. The town embraced the technology and turned it into an art form.”
- “Here’s a little known fact about the Las Vegas Club: In 1931 they installed the first neon sign on a hotel casino and the second neon sign in the Las Vegas (the first Las Vegas neon sign was in 1927 at the Oasis Restaurant).”
- “The first Las Vegas installation of neon signage was in 1927 at the Oasis Restaurant. Downtown Las Vegas from Fremont and Second Street. “
- “The Oasis Café sign was the first neon sign in Las Vegas built in 1929 followed by the Las Vegas Club sign in 1930.”
- “The first Las Vegas installation of neon signage was in 1927 at the Oasis Restaurant.”
- “Neon signs, introduced in Las Vegas in 1929 at the Oasis Café on Fremont Street, enjoyed their heyday between the 1930s – 1980s.”
All of the above are from different sites, and there are many, many more.
First, let’s deal with the Las Vegas Club – “First Neon sign on a hotel-casino.”
The Northern Hotel and Club had its neon sign up in 1929, when gambling on card games and some slot machines were legal.
At the time the Las Vegas Club’s hotel, like the Northern was just wasn’t much of a hotel.
When the railroad held its auction for lots in what is now the City of Las Vegas, the deed-restricted the sale of alcohol to Blocks 16 and 17, the area around North First street.
When the auction was held, May 15-16, 1905 those lots commanded top prices.
Then, when the actual deeds were produced, there appeared an asterisk. If you operated a hotel, with a restaurant, you could serve alcohol.
Quickly, the word hotel was added to the names of buildings. The first floor was a saloon, but with a ‘restaurant, at least that’s what they called the free cold plates. On the second a half dozen or more rooms.
Magic, a Hotel with a restaurant that served alcohol.
Both the Northern and the Boulder Club had Neon signs in advance of the Las Vegas Club.
Back to the Oasis Cafe.
Oasis Cafe Business card.
The Oasis Cafe at 123 Fremont Street installs a great-looking Neon sign in 1932.
A page one story in the April 28, 1932 issue of the Las Vegas Review-Journal says “Neon Sign Being Placed at Oasis.”
According to the story “a truckload of Neon signs, to be placed on various establishments in Las Vegas arrived here this morning and were in the process of installation this afternoon. Among the signs was a large 10 foot by six-foot sign for the Oasis Confectionery store.”
Early 1930’s Post Card.
The café was owned by E.P. Bihlmaier. The newspaper story went on to describe the sign; “There is a palm tree, outlined with Neon tubing and a Neoned “Oasis Café” in the center of the sign.”
Although note in Neon, Bihlmaier felt it was important to let potential customers known he only used “women cooks” and he ran an “All American House.” (Likely no Chinese, French or Mexican food served!)
Back to Neon, Bihlmaier told the reporter “tubing” would also be placed in the window, providing his café with a “Neoned Front.”[i]
A month earlier Thomas Young opened a temporary office in the brand new Apache Hotel located across the street from Bihlmaier’s café.
On the west side of the Apache Hotel was the Boulder Club. It was in need of a new Neon sign. It’s first Neon was installed three years earlier.
Young convinced both the owners of the Oasis and the Boulder Club to upgrade thier existing signage.[ii]
The first Neon sign in Las Vegas, preceeded both the Oasis and the Las Vegas Club more than three years.
Overland Hotel Neon Sign, September 28, 1928
The Overland Hotel’s Neon sign was switch on the week of September 28, 1928. It stands as the first Neon sign in Las Vegas.
Currently working on part two of the first Neon sign, 1928-1929 in Las Vegas at Vegasarchive.com aka Vegasrecord.com aka Captainhistory.com aka Bigfootnote.com
[i] “Neon Sign Being Placed at Oasis,” April 28, 1932, Las Vegas Review-Journal, page one.
[ii] Display advertisement, Young Electric Sign Company, March 29, 1932, Las Vegas Review-Journal, page six, “A Legacy of Light, The History of Young Electric Sign Company,” 1995, Designed and written by Barbara Barell, printed by Paragon Press, Inc., page twenty-nine.