Sign collector urges city to keep neon on Reno’s iconic arch

neon Reno Nevada

Downtown Reno, including the city’s famous arch over Virginia Street. Photo by Lvtalon

RENO, Nev. (AP) – A Reno sign collector is trying to persuade city leaders to keep Reno’s iconic downtown arch neon instead of switching to LED lights during a planned makeover.

The city currently is conducting an online survey on a variety of possible changes to the arch on the main casino drag with the slogan, “Biggest Little City in the World.”

One of the options is to vote for programmable LED lights or neon lights on the “RENO” portion that tops the structure.

Will Durham says it’s a no-brainer.

“LED means nothing to Nevada. Neon means everything,” Durham told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Durham has been working with the city to open a neon museum in downtown in order to show off his huge collection of vintage neon signage in Nevada. He’s started a social media campaign to make his case for keeping an old touch on any renovation.

“Neon can cut through darkness like no other medium,” said Durham, who grew up in Reno and used to fall asleep staring out his window at the glistening downtown.

“There’s a warmth. There’s something you can’t explain about neon; there’s a definite magic to it,”’ he said.

The LED lights would allow the city to change the color of “RENO” to match events and holidays. A pink “RENO” could match National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for example.

The current arch, which has spanned Virginia Street since 1987, is the city’s third in a history that spans nearly a century.

The original one, which turned 90 earlier this year, sits a few blocks away on Lake Street a block from the Truckee River next to the National Automobile Museum.

Backers of the change to LED cite the cost savings as well as the flexibility.

“The LED is not the classic Reno-Vegas look, but it’s going to be close and it’s going to save a ton of money on maintenance on the arch,” said Marc Lipkowitz, owner of Custom Sign and Crane.

Lipkowitz built and installed the Reno Arch in 1986 when he worked for another sign company. He said it was erected to revitalize and rejuvenate a waning downtown core. The neon fit into the casino scene in Las Vegas and Reno.

“I just think this Reno Arch is iconic,” he said. “It’s OK to upgrade the lighting and lower the city’s maintenance costs. … The LED is going to look close enough to it and in 10 years, unless neon comes back in, it’s going to go away.”

He said the 100-year-old technology has lasted a long time. But, he also said the energy costs don’t make a huge difference overall. LEDs include warranties and last for 100,000 hours. They are also easier to repair, he said.

Durham supports replacing the smaller bulbs with LED strips, but not the neon tubes that form the word, “RENO.”

“LED strips are mass produced in China,” he said. “Neon tubes are made by professional craftsman here in Reno. And it’s important that we’re using a medium to represent Nevada that is also made in Nevada.”


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal,

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This information may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.