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Reno Collector To Preserve Iconic Motel Signs

The Golden West Motor Lodge sign on Virginia Street in Reno.
Natalie Van Hoozer
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Reno City Council recently voted to demolish two downtown motels, leaving some residents wondering, “What will happen to their neon signs?” 

For the last 20 years, Reno native Will Durham has collected neon signs all over Nevada. Since the Golden West Motor Lodge and the Heart o’ Town Motel are being demolished, Durham bought their neon signs and will store them himself.

The sign for the Heart o' Town Motel prior to its removal from Virginia Street.
Credit Sharlynn Vee
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The sign for the Heart o' Town Motel prior to its removal from Virginia Street.

He took down the sign for the Heart o’ Town Motel a year and a half ago, and will be removing the sign for the Golden West Motor Lodge later this month.

The "vacancy" sign for the Golden West Motor Lodge.
Credit Natalie Van Hoozer
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“They’re beautiful design, great typography, and just really evocative names, Golden West and Heart o’ Town,” he said. “You just say the names and you conjure up ideas of what those places are.”

The Golden West Motor Lodge neon sign from directly below.
Credit Natalie Van Hoozer
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Conjuring up Reno’s past is exactly what Durham wants.

“I think that maybe Reno’s motel days are no longer relevant,” he said. “They will be missed, but their legacy will live on in the signs.”

The neon sign for the Golden West Motor Lodge as well as the metal lettering on the side of the motel.
Credit Aishwarya Krishnamoorthy
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Durham has about 75 signs and is looking to open a neon sign museum in downtown Reno. Until then, he says he is happy to keep exhibiting his collection at places like the University of Nevada, Reno, or the Holland Project.

Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States.
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