Sparked: Northern Nevada's Neon

Nevada's story has been written in glowing, colorful neon lights for nearly a century. The vivid tubes were beacons for travelers and mavericks. They also spelled out optimism and illuminated the pioneering spirit of people across the state. As modern technology advances, what is happening to this ubiquitous symbol? Is there still a place for neon in the modern silver state? Holly Hutchings takes a look at Northern Nevada's Neon. Discover more below.

Holly Hutchings

While neon once brought to mind retro advertising for seedy adult businesses and dive bars, it is now often seen as art. Holly Hutchings talks to one artist who has been making the colorful craft for decades.

How Neon Glows On

May 2, 2019
Holly Hutchings

Vibrant glowing tubes of neon have illustrated the Nevada story for a century, as they line quaint main streets and urban centers. The stories behind the bright and bended glass have also dominated our arts and culture coverage through the month of April in a series we called Sparked. Holly Hutchings took a deeper look into this part of our history with multiple stories. She talked to Bree Zender about the series and how neon lives on.

A man sits next to a neon bull.
Holly Hutchings

Persistence of vision. That’s what Will Durham, executive director of the Nevada Neon Project, calls it when he talks about seeing the Nevada Neon Project through years of setbacks and successes to achieve his ultimate goal to have a world-class museum in Reno. His goal is firm, as is his resolve and dedication to reach it.

Governor Steve Sisolak sits at his desk with kids behind him as he signs a bill they wrote and lobbied for.
Holly Hutchings

Like sturdy maple trees in Vermont or the sugary fried beignets of Louisiana, states have their own icons that instantly connect the symbol to its place. Nevada has neon. Some local advocates for the noble gas have been working to get its spot in the history books by making neon the state’s official element this legislative session.

The work paid off, and Governor Steve Sisolak signed the bill into law Tuesday, but the bill’s proponents are not who you might think, and KUNR’s Holly Hutchings has been following them for months.

Touring Reno's Neon

Apr 22, 2019
Krysta Scripter

The best way to experience neon is to step into the night air, get up close and let the light sink in. Reno MoMo, or Modern Movement, is hosting neon walking tours that let everyday people do just that. The group takes curious guests through back alleys and down busy roads to share the tales of the neon. Holly Hutchings joined them on a recent stroll and has this story.

A huge, brightly lit neon sign of a horse and its rider stands tall on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The science of neon hasn't changed in over a century. What charged the gas to life as a 1900's advertising medium still burns it brightly today. For KUNR's detailed series on neon, Holly Hutchings traveled to our counterpart in the South and spoke with a physicist about what he calls, lightning in a bottle. 

A pink neon sign in the shape of a woman resting in a large martini glass glows from the window of The Sandpiper in Elko.
Peter and Sheila Laufer

Nevada’s urban hubs and hidden rural pockets have long been dotted with neon signs. Authors Peter Laufer and Sheila Laufer used to live in Silver City and have crisscrossed Nevada three times over 40 years, hunting that neon. Their book, Neon Nevada, captures the changing story of neon across the region with colorful images and detailed narratives. Holly Hutchings caught up with them to learn about what they saw on their nocturnal quests.

Sheila and Peter Laufer

As part of the "Sparked: Northern Nevada's Neon" series we are taking you on a visual road trip across rural Nevada to explore some of the states iconic neon signs. Images for this storymap were provided by Sheila and Peter Laufer, authors of Neon Nevada

An old, faded sign stands tall with the letters for "motel" stacked high.
Holly Hutchings

Motels are coming down in Reno, and with that, their signs - works of art and advertising from the automobile revolution - have been lost. While Reno redevelops, bits of roadside history are being discarded. A few dedicated folks are working to recognize and also preserve these icons. KUNR’s Holly Hutchings learned more and has this report.

Courtesy of the Western Nevada Photo Collection

This month, KUNR is featuring stories about Reno's iconic neon in a series called Sparked: Northern Nevada’s Neon. In this installment of Time & Place, historian Alicia Barber explains how the shifting popularity of neon has been reflected locally in the evolution of Reno’s most celebrated landmark.

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