A LAS VEGAS ICON is back. No, it’s not Cher or Celine Dion running out a new production show. This famous female is the old-school type, so she’s kicking it in Downtown Las Vegas at the recently opened Circa Resort & Casino. We’re talking about Vegas Vickie, one of the most recognizable neon signs in Las Vegas. Designed by electric artist Charles Barnard and first installed in 1980 above the Glitter Gulch façade on Fremont Street, the sign depicts a cowgirl in a form-fitting fringed outfit kicking a leg skyward.
Vegas Vickie immediately became a beloved cheerleader for Downtown’s Fremont Street and achieved global fame in 1994 when she married her neon “pardner,” Vegas Vic. In 2017, Vegas Vickie was plucked from her perch, packed in a crate and put in storage when casino owner Derek Stevens began demolition of the surrounding properties in preparation for a new resort. But Stevens didn’t want to let one of the city’s most famous neon works of art become a museum piece in the city’s Neon Boneyard.
“She was ready for some much-needed rest and relaxation,” says Stevens, co-owner of The D, Golden Gate, and Circa resorts. “The intent all along was to bring Vickie back to her former glory. We wanted to preserve and respect the history of Las Vegas.” Today, Vickie greets patrons at her namesake lounge inside the Circa, which opened in October and is the first new resort to be built in Downtown Las Vegas in four decades.
YESCO, the century-old sign company, was responsible for the Vegas Vickie restoration. YESCO designed or installed many of the city’s most iconic signs, including the Stardust starburst, the Circus Circus neon clown, and the electric guitar outside the old Hard Rock Cafe on Paradise Road.
“Derek Stevens and his brother, Greg, had the vision to see the value in Vickie and found a way to integrate her into the design of Circa,” says Rick Juleen, YESCO’s vice president of business development. “Because of the Neon Museum, there’s a lot more focus on these historical neon signs and the importance of preserving them. There is a little bit of a renaissance going on right now with neon in general, around the country and around the world.”
Turning a superstar sign into a supermodel was no easy task. With metal work, new paint, and new neon glass tubing, the naturally weathered 40-year-old sign got an extreme makeover. The result? Vegas Vickie is now an Instagram star. “She’s having a selfie moment right now,” Juleen says. “She’s kind of like a museum piece. You can get very close to her and see all the details from a bunch of different angles. She looks great.”
Because Vegas Vickie was designed and built to be outside and viewed from a distance, the sign had to undergo some extensive work to make her look “as good, if not better than she was in the 1980s,” Juleen explains. “She was in fairly good shape, but it was an intense process.” To get there, the first order of business for Juleen and his team was to pore over historic images in an effort to match her original colors and other tiny details. That led YESCO to create a scaled, painted mock-up to share with Circa brass. Once they got the thumbs-up to proceed with the remodel, workers stripped the sign down to its bare metal, sanded it down, pounded out dents and hand-painted the metal skin. Meanwhile, the glass shop was busy shaping the new neon, and engineers were swapping out her hydraulic leg kick with a cleaner, smoother and quieter motor-powered mechanical system.
Next up was the biggest challenge of all: moving Vegas Vickie from the warehouse into the building. The heavy, 20-by-25-foot tall cowgirl was brought to the casino in one piece and lifted into place using a crane before Circa’s walls went up. The casino was then essentially built around her.
“We had to get her in before they put the doors on,” says Juleen. “I get asked all the time how much she weighs and I say, ‘You know, Vickie and YESCO have an agreement that we don’t talk about her weight.’ She’s a big lady, though.”