Neon Sign Collector Plans Light Circus Museum in Montage

by Mike Van Houten / May 12, 2011

Neon sign collector Will Durham is currently in negotiations with the Montage to occupy the space that was formally to be Ruth's Chris, and install a neon sign museum that will be open to the public from June through September.

Durham hopes that the temporary museum is a stepping stone to a more permanent location. The Montage doesn't exactly have tenants competing to lease their commercial space, so this is a great way to give the ground floor some activity while showcasing a big piece of Reno's history. If you aren't familiar with the it, the Montage's commercial space fronting Commercial Row and Sierra Street features floor-to-ceiling glass walls, making the neon signs very visible to those walking by.

The museum will feature neon signs from Harold's Club, Mapes and Fitzgeralds, as well as include recognizable signs from the area and less recognizable signs he's collected throughout the years.

Durham however was a bit taken back by the lack of support from stakeholders downtown. Given that downtown casinos support special events he figured if he put together a really nice sponsorship packet for the museum, that someone downtown would come forward and help sponsor it. That was not the case. In his push to find a downtown sponsor, not one single business he sent a packet out to bothered to return his calls, including the major casinos. One would think they would be interested in sponsoring a piece of their own history.

He also didn't hear any word back from the city council as well, after writing each of them a letter outlining his plans. Unlike the sponsorship packets, he was simply looking for some support and a pat on the back for his efforts.

Nonetheless, with or without sponsors or interest from the city council, he plans on opening the museum this June, provided his negotiations with the Montage end positively and he gets the space and improvements needed.

People always complain there's nothing to do downtown except gamble and drink. Here's an opportunity to have pieces of Reno's history on display throughout the summer, so I urge both the Montage and City Council to help Durham out in any way possible within their means, so we can enjoy this museum throughout the summer.

Post your comments
  • May 13, 2011 - 6:44:27 AM

    A great addition to The Montage and to downtown. Hope it remains permanently!

  • May 13, 2011 - 9:13:03 AM

    I'm very excited about this! I love the vintage signage. There is a similar museum in Vegas.

  • May 13, 2011 - 11:56:30 AM

    I love neon! I think this is great. Hopefully the Montage folks will cut the guy a rent deal so he can stay awhile and get this going.

  • May 14, 2011 - 12:17:59 PM

    I think Mr.Durham has a brilliant idea. It will utilize that empty cold space in many ways. It will attract some positive attention to downtown. It will show case some history of Reno. It will bring Montage some positive attention too. Not only for its condo's but for its commercial space. Montage should let him have it for free. It will gain so much positive attention of what the Montage has to offer. I'm surprised that no one is supporting Mr.Durham. What I can tell from the article the Museum will tell some of Reno's history but bring some art. Those neon's are one of kind nostalgic art forms. Good luck to Mr.Durham and his vision. Hopefully, Montage will shine with some bright lights soon.

  • May 14, 2011 - 9:42:05 PM

    As a local history and especially a vintage sign enthusiast, I am ALL over this! Thank you for your contribution!!!!

  • May 15, 2011 - 9:28:11 AM

    Always looking for something to do downtown--this will be a welcome addition and fun for all ages! Thanks, for introducing a new and creative way to spend a Saturday afternoon----really looking forward to it!

  • May 16, 2011 - 1:49:33 AM

    I LOVE your drive, and fully support it! My heart belongs to history, and I can't wait to view it in person!

  • May 17, 2011 - 12:46:03 PM

    I moved in at the Montage about seven months ago and I've been waiting for something to happen in the commercial space. This is an awesome idea! Hope everything works out. It would be great if this museum sparked some interest in the other ground floor spaces.

  • May 19, 2011 - 7:08:26 PM

    Wonderful Idea! And true...people always complain there is nothing to do downtown, except gamble,drink, get tattooed..or hitting up a pawn shop. Not some good highlights! This would be a great move towards improving downtown and youd think the casinos, they would support something positive like this!?!? Something that would actual draw people to the downtown area! I am shocked and appauled he has heard back from the casinos! Think what a draw this would be also during Hot August Nights!

  • May 21, 2011 - 7:03:10 AM

    Hi Will, I am thrilled to see that you have continued your efforts to display your fabulous collections of historical signs. I am not surprised about the lack of interest by officials to date, but don't give up as I am sure you will find some good connections by showing the historical art work to the public. Reno seemed determined to destroy it's unique historical character and charm, but I am sure that there must be individuals who can help you keep this wonderful project open for the public to enjoy. I would still be interested in showing and sharing some of our photos and finds of Nevada's neon history (you being the most interesting find of all)! Please get in touch. I am living in CA now.

  • May 23, 2011 - 8:29:45 PM

    I always thought Reno should be themed in the late '40's early '50's genre of Nevada gambling and it's history. My grandfather was a foreman during the construction of the Mapes Hotel. I was sad to see that part of Reno's history torn down. I think this would be awesome. And maybe a start for Reno to get back to its gambling roots. If you need me to sign a petition, I'm all over it. Love this!!