The iconic Blue Angel has returned to Las Vegas, morphing from motel decor to a piece of public art placed east of downtown.
The 15-foot statue dates to 1957 and for decades welcomed visitors to the downtown Blue Angel Motel. It was created by Betty Willis, who also designed the Welcome To Las Vegas sign in the 1950s.
Today the Blue Angel sits on a pedestal at Five Points, where Fremont Street, Charleston Boulevard and Eastern Avenue come together in East Las Vegas.
“I think Blue Angel is a very historical figure in our community," said Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, who represents Ward 3, "It’s an iconic landmark that many people grew up and drove past for decades. I think it is so amazing that we were able to partner and use the funding from the Las Vegas Centennial Commission and other very generous patrons to make sure that we kept her here in Ward 3 for the long run.”
Diaz said the Angel now sits 700 feet from her original spot. She hopes the statue is all part of a revitalization of the Five Points area.
“That Five Point location we hope is on the upward path of revitalization. We are trying very hard to try to spur development with the Enchilada Project coming down Fremont Street,” she said.
Project Enchilada is what the city has dubbed its downtown redevelopment and revitalization plan.
Diaz said new apartments are being built nearby at the site of the former Showboat Casino. There are also new businesses being established in the area.
She is optimistic that efforts will continue despite the economic downturn created by the pandemic.
“[It's] a great figure that we all need during this pandemic and knowing that an angel is watching over all of us,” Diaz said.
The angel was designed around the same time that the Blue Angel Motel was designed and built, said Derek Weis, the education and engagement manager for the Neon Museum.
“It became this local landmark that was there for just about six decades,” he said.
When the motel was demolished, the Angel stayed, until the city took it down. It was on loan to Neon Museum and people were able to see it up close.
“Like many of the signs, in general, that are now at the museum or have been restored. It’s just the size and scope really hits you when you see it up close,” Weis said.
He said many people have noted the Angel's resemblance to the Blue Fairy from Disney's "Pinocchio" with a touch of Marilyn Monroe. Weis is not sure if that was intentional but the sign is "very unique and significant."
While the Neon Museum would not have turned down taking the Angel permanently, Weis said, he's happy to see it close to where it stood for so many years.
“I think there is a sense of continuity with the Angel being back there," he said, "Las Vegas is not famous for having many things that are really that old that are kind of a shared object or place.”
He believes the Blue Angel will be like the Welcome sign or Vegas Vic - a symbol of the city.
Like all icons, the Angel has inspired great art.
Artist Jerry Misko has used the Blue Angel as his personal muse.
“Not only our guardian angel, the city’s guardian angel, but as my personal muse for a lot of my Vegas work,” he said.
And that started when he was a baby and his family first moved to Las Vegas.
His mother told the story of staying at the Par-O-Dice Motel across the street from the Blue Angel Motel when they first arrived in town. She saw the Angel as a guardian angel, guarding her family, her new baby and their new life in Las Vegas.
From there, Misko's family would often book a room at the motel just to enjoy the pool in the heat of the summer.
“It’s always been a special spot in our family heart, and then, mine personally over the years just always driving by, remembering her from that story my mom told, and then, just falling in love with her on my own as a teenager, as an adult,” he said.
Misko said he's not the only artist who has found inspiration from the Angel. He said a number of artists have used her image on murals, paintings and even performance art.
One of the largest commissions Misko has ever done was of the Angel for a real estate agent, who wasn't born in Las Vegas but has lived here for many years and felt a strong connection to the Angel. He created two large works featuring the Blue Angel for her home.
“She’s a welcome wagon on top of everything else,” he said.
Olivia Diaz, Ward 3 councilwoman, Las Vegas; Derek Weis, education and engagement manager, Neon Museum; Jerry Misko, artist
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