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September 22, 2014

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Nowhere to go but up at the landfill that was once the Moulin Rouge

Image

Courtesy Vegas One TV

Firefighters battle a fire at the historic Moulin Rouge hotel and casino in the western Las Vegas Valley.

Moulin Rouge Fire

Firefighters from three area fire departments battled a four-alarm blaze for more than two hours at the historic Moulin Rouge hotel and casino Wednesday. Las Vegas Fire Department investigators will begin a thorough examination of the smoldering ruins as soon as the building is safe.

Moulin Rouge fire

Firefighters work to control a blaze in an apartment building at the old Moulin Rouge hotel and casino on Bonanza Road. The apartments were supposed to have been vacant were destined to be torn down, officials said. Launch slideshow »

Map of Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center

Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center

900 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas

Moulin Rouge - a look back

The Moulin Rouge casino in the 1950's. Launch slideshow »

The Moulin Rouge has finished smoldering, but it still smells of charred wood. Steel girders are twisted nearly into knots by bulldozers that razed the famous casino even while embers still burned. Deck chairs have been flattened, mattresses burned and torn. Fractured beams are piled 10 feet high. The remains of apartment doors have been crushed.

Those who have described the latter-day Moulin Rouge as a dump are wrong -- this is a dump, the Moulin Rouge Landfill.

But you notice, off to the side, a gleaming Lincoln limousine sits idling. Curling out is a man wearing wraparound Ray Bans, a navy blue golf shirt with the words “Olympic Coast” stitched over the left front, khaki shorts and flip-flops. He looks at the scene with a stunned, disbelieving grin.

He is the owner of the Moulin Rouge. Welcome to your new property, John Hoss.

“The timing,” he says, “is a little odd.”

A little odd. Of course. For decades, that’s how it’s been at the Moulin Rouge.

**

Hoss’ company, Olympic Coast Investment Inc. of Seattle, took over ownership of the famed hotel-casino (and later low-rent housing complex) on Tuesday morning. That’s Tuesday, this week. Olympic Coast was the lender who loaned the former Moulin Rouge owners, a collection of investors known as Moulin Rouge Development Corp., $24 million to renovate the 54-year-old landmark to something resembling its former glory. The Moulin Rouge Development Corp. purchased the property five years ago, promising it would erect a $200 million hotel-casino on the parcel at 900 W. Bonanza Road, across the street from the R-J.

Olympic Coast lent the owners the money in two installments in November 2006 and February 2007, but the property sank into foreclosure and the fabled Moulin Rouge was put up for auction this week. No bidder stepped forward to rescue the Moulin Rouge, so Olympic Coast seized ownership by default.

Then, the fire.

“I watched this on the Internet, on a live stream, for about an hour,” Hoss said. “It’s a weird coincidence. It’s certainly odd.” Ross had earlier pondered a question from a TV reporter who asked about the curious turn of events. “I don’t know how anyone would benefit from it burning down.” Confusing, too, was the swift razing of what was left of the hotel: Why was it knocked down so fast, and who authorized its bulldozing? City of Las Vegas Public Information Officer Jace Radke sent a news release this afternoon explaining: “Fire investigators were able to determine the origin of the fire and finished their work at the site before the remains of the building were demolished. The decision to demolish the remains of the building was made by the city manager and the fire chief based on Las Vegas Municipal Code section 9.04.080(D). The remains were determined to be unsafe and an imminent hazard. In addition, by tearing down the structure, fire crews were able to get to the small fires that were still burning Wednesday.

“The city was set to demolish the remains of the building, but Moulin Rouge Development Corp. representatives were on scene and had a licensed contractor ready to conduct the demolition. Under the direction of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, the remains of the building were demolished. City of Las Vegas crews did not demolish the building, and the city did not have to pay for the demolition.”

During a phone conversation this afternoon, Radke said the city was unaware of Tuesday’s ownership change at Moulin Rouge, and Ross says he didn’t authorize any demolition of the property. Regardless, Radke said, there was nothing left of the unsafe structure to investigate but four walls and smoking landfill, and the investigators had finished their work.

It’s not the first blaze to scorch the Moulin Rouge, which for six historic months after opening on May 24, 1955, was the city’s first integrated casino. Stories of members of the Rat Pack, Maurice and Gregory Hines and Nat King Cole putting on performances at the hotel have far outlived its brief tenure as a resort, and the wood-framed building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The two-story, 110-room hotel, which was converted into a low-rent apartment housing complex in 1997, was also badly damaged by a fire in 2003. Thankfully its famous sign, a wonderfully scripted, looped design by iconic sign artist Betty Willis (who also conceived the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign), was spared. In another odd piece of timing, just a week ago, the sign was moved to the Neon Boneyard on Las Vegas Boulevard North near Cashman Field. The sign was moved temporarily to allow for renovations to the hotel, and the plan was for it to be returned when remodeling was completed. From the looks of the landfill today, the Moulin Rouge sign won’t be needed at the site for a very long time.

Hoss said his company’s plans are simple: Sell the property.

“It still has a grandfathered, full gaming license, which makes it valuable,” he said, though the new owners would likely have to appear before the Nevada Gaming Commission to have that dusty license renewed. “But we’re in the lending business. We’re not in the casino business.”

Hoss set an estimated asking price: “A little north of $25 million.”

For that, you can own the Moulin Rouge, the hottest landmark in all of Vegas.

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