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Front view of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. 
(Photo by Rosalie Spear)
Front view of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. (Photo by Rosalie Spear)

Vintage Vegas’ Iconic Bastion

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“And on your left is the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign…”

The words emanate from the microphone throughout the bus, alerting all aboard to the magnificent sight they are about to see. The bus slows, pulling into the tiny parking lot created specifically for Las Vegas Boulevard’s 25-foot-tall metal beacon.

The bus is overflowing with wide-eyed tourists about to lay their virgin eyes upon the neon bulbs and bright lettering of Sin City’s sign. They wait in anticipation, their bones creaking and muscles tense, and lunge at the first chance to snap a selfie with the renowned landmark.

“I think the sign is very important and iconic to the city, because it really encapsulates the entire idea of the Strip,” said Brian Ortega, Big Bus Tours Las Vegas tour guide. It’s Ortega’s job to know anything and everything about the sign, from its shape inspired by the atomic testing of the ’50s to the current location of its solar power panels. “There’s no other sign in the city that gives you all of the personality and the color of Las Vegas like the Las Vegas sign.”

 

Close-up of the lettering on the Las Vegas sign. Each letter of the word "Welcome" was designed to look like a silver dollar. (Photo by Rosalie Spear)

Close-up of the lettering on the Las Vegas sign. Each letter of the word “Welcome” was designed to look like a silver dollar coin. (Photo by Rosalie Spear)

 

For the past two years as a tour guide, Ortega has driven by the Vegas sign five times each day. He sees couples tie the knot on that small patch of land nearly every shift, usually accompanied by Elvis and a troupe of show girls.

“Considering I pass it all the time, the sign doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to a tourist,” Ortega said, “but I still understand its significance. It was exciting to me when I first came here, since I had only ever seen it on TV.”

Although the Tucson, Ariz., native has lived in Las Vegas for five years now and taken around 500 photos of other people—including his own family—with the sign looming in the background, Ortega still has not succumbed to starring in a stereotypical photograph of his own. It was unintentional at first, but now it’s become a personal goal for him to resist the urge.

“When I finally move away from Las Vegas—then, and only then, is when I will take a photo in front of the sign,” Ortega said.

Although he refuses to buddy-up with the fluorescent monument, Ortega compares the prominence of the Las Vegas marquee to New York’s legendary torch-wielding, copper lady.

“I would put the Statue of Liberty and the Vegas sign on the same level, which is definitely saying something,” Ortega said. “They’re both iconic—you have to go see them.”

Even the wording of the sign makes its title as a national historic landmark suitable in Ortega’s opinion.

“It doesn’t just say welcome to ‘beautiful’ Las Vegas—it says welcome to ‘fabulous’ Las Vegas,” Ortega said. “It’s bright and vibrant, just like the city itself.”

Back of "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. (Photo by Rosalie Spear)

Back of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. (Photo by Rosalie Spear)

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