A Legend Forged in Neon

scan0004.jpgBrian “Buzz” Leming has only one regret about his 50-year career as a sign designer: that historic preservation of his beloved neon art took so long. “The Dunes … they just knocked it down and threw it away. It was horrible,” Leming says.

Three years after the 1993 Dunes implosion, the Neon Museum nonprofit was officially launched. Now, after 16 years of planning, the museum opens to the public Oct. 27.

For Leming, it’s personal. The 72-year-old is one of the last living designers from the golden age of neon. He answered an ad for a part-time job at Western Sign Co. when he was 22 because he liked to draw. What started as a hobby kept Leming employed until he retired earlier this year.

Leming has lived in Las Vegas since he was 5 years old, and fondly remembers childhood visits to Fremont Street to admire the lights. Later, he worked with legendary designers such as Young Electric Sign Co.’s Jack Larsen, Kermit Wayne, Herman Boernge and Ben Mitchum. “I went from viewing neon as an awesome light form to designing it,” Leming says. “It was pretty cool.”

The designers had a playful spirit, and would go to any length to come up with something new. Once, Leming says, Larsen pushed some kids out of the way and dove into a toy box, searching for miniature soldiers to put in a Caesars sign model. (That got the YESCO gang thrown out of the store.) Another time, they took apart decorative hairspray mounts at Wonder World and later used them for the lighting fixtures on the original Aladdin sign.

Today’s LED light can’t pop like neon, Leming says. He’s happy to see technological advances bringing back the lost art of the gas-filled tubes.

Although Leming is now retired, his love for the sign business lives on in his son, Brian “Red” Leming, who’s been a professional installer for three decades. Red has also had a hand in setting up nearly all the signs at the Neon Museum.

“I’ve been lucky,” the elder Leming says, looking around the Neon Boneyard. “I’ve designed a whole lot of signs in this town.”

“… And I’ve put a whole lot of them up,” the younger adds.

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