(updated march 1, 2018)
(all of the images are from the author’s collection)
Since posting The Overland Hotel had the first Neon sign in Las Vegas, several gentle folks have suggested it was the Oasis Café in 1927.
Started researching the first Neon signs in Las Vegas several years ago and kept running into the following statements about the Oasis and the Las Vegas Club.
Although hoping to find the café in question had a Neon sign in Las Vegas in 1927, to date have not found a primary source to back up that often asserted ‘fact!’
a couple of bits of information.
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 wall be installed and ice cream will be served. it is also probably 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’
and, while the Oasis initially was a confectionery store with “candy & soda” the light sign hanging from the main sign provides a look at its future as a restaurant. At this point it only serves “EATS.”
Sounds funny as a noun, EATS rather than a verb. In this case it must mean sandwiches or maybe fruits, or pastry, donuts . With that, looking for other Las Vegas “EATS” signs, as well as the one word circular signs with a cover.
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 right side.
The statements about the Oasis Cafe having the first Neon sign are found on sites focused on Las Vegas, its history, and are clearly are sites where the creators and reporters, and universities involved have a respect and care regarding an accurate accounting of the history of the community.
BUT! We have the many statement regarding the Oasis Café being the first to have a Neon sign in Las Vegas. Two days for the first are offered, 1927 and 1929.
A second Neon story circulated that, at this point, has not basis in fact; the Las Vegas Club, in 1931 was the first hotel-casino to have a Neon sign.
Here are a few of the many statemtns, 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. When additional gambling was legalized in 1931, the Northern was issued gaming license number one. At the time the Las Vegas Club’s hotel, like the Northern was just wasn’t much of a hotel. The only reason the two club’s originally opened with a hotel on the second floor was it gave them the legal ability to sell alcohol. No hotel, no alcohol, as legal place, according to deed restrictions, to just retail alcohol “saloons” was on Block 16, the 200 block of north First. Unless there is something else added to the Las Vegas Club’s sign defintion to make it ‘first,’ it wasn’t the first.
Oasis Cafe Business card.
Second, the Oasis Cafe. While it had a great address 123 Fremont Street, not sure how or when the Oasis Café was originally given the title of ‘first neon sign,’ in Las Vegas both in 1927 and 1929.
So far, only able to find this article about Neon at the Oasis in the April 28, 1932 issue of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The front page has a story titled “Neon Sign Being Placed at Oasis.” The newspaper says “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 sings 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.”
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. One building, just west of the Apache Hotel, on the same side of the Street was the Boulder Club, it was in need of a new Neon sign. It first was installed three years earlier. Young convinced both the owners of the Oasis and the Boulder Club they needed Neon.[ii]
Unless there is a primary source for the Oasis Café having a Neon sign in 1927, The Overland Hotel’s Neon sign, the week of September 28, 1928 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.