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Four-alarm blaze at Moulin Rouge leads to site demolition

Sign recently removed from historic site

Image

Steve Marcus

Firefighters put water on a a blaze at the Moulin Rouge Apartments, formerly the Moulin Rouge hotel and casino, on Bonanza Road Wednesday. The apartments were supposed to have been vacant were destined to be torn down, officials said.

Updated Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 5:16 p.m.

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 historic Moulin Rouge hotel and casino, destroyed by fire today, is already being torn down, a Las Vegas city spokesman said this afternoon.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, said Jace Radke, spokesman for the city of Las Vegas.

"But it's a total loss," Radke said, referring to the 54-year-old landmark in the western Las Vegas Valley.

Las Vegas Fire Department investigators will begin a thorough examination of the smoldering ruins as soon as the building is safe, he said.

Bulldozers began this afternoon tearing down two-story apartments that had burned near the front of the hotel property, Radke said.

Firefighters from three area fire departments battled a four-alarm blaze for more than two hours at the historic Moulin Rouge hotel and casino.

Las Vegas Fire Department dispatchers were called about 11:45 a.m. Wednesday. The fire continued to burn, sending plumes of gray smoke into the sky and threatening nearby structures around the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas called in North Las Vegas and Clark County Fire Departments as the flames spread and threatened nearby apartment buildings and other structures.

There were no injuries reported. Firefighters did not find anyone in what was left of the historic hotel.

Hot temperatures in the high 80s and lower 90s did not help firefighters, who had to battle the blaze with hoses from atop ladders.

Radke said that the four alarms were called to bring in more manpower, not because of the intensity of the fire.

"It's a hot day, and they need to rotate crews through there," he said.

Sixteen engines from the three fire department responded to the fire, Radke said.

The fire occurred in part of the hotel that had been converted to apartment units, but was currently unoccupied.

An abandoned apartment building behind the hotel on H Street was also threatened by the fire.

A week ago the famous script sign spelling out Moulin Rouge across the front of the facade had been moved in preparation for its final destination in the Neon Boneyard. The boneyard is temporarily keeping the sign, a spokeswoman said this afternoon.

The Moulin Rouge was slated for a revival several times in its colorful past.

On May 29, 2003, an arson fire destroyed all but the neon sign, the hotel's facade and part of the structures in the historic building at 900 W. Bonanza Road.

The building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

The Moulin Rouge closed in 1997, a shell of its former self.

The hotel-casino opened on May 24, 1955 and had a wood-framed structure with wooden shingles.

Although the Moulin Rouge had its heydey in the first year of operation, its historical significance in Las Vegas and to America's civil rights movement remains indelible, Las Vegas historians noted.

David Milman, a historian at the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society at Lorenzi Park, said the Moulin Rouge's importance was as "a beacon of initegration. Its lasting legacy was not the actual hotel, but rather the idea. Its existence guaranteed that things were going to change in racial policies in Las Vegas."

Once the Moulin Rouge was shuttered in 1997, the resort's 110 rooms were converted into low-rent apartment housing. The hotel is located in what has long been one of Las Vegas' poorest areas.

In the 1950s conditions were so bad in West Las Vegas some houses were mere shacks with no water, sewage system or electricity. Laws of the time prohibited blacks from living anywhere else in town.

The Moulin Rouge was the only hotel and casino in Las Vegas that allowed black patrons.

The resort was built for $7 million by Beverly Hills, Calif., real estate entrepreneur Alex Bisno and New York restaurateur Louis Rubin.

In March 1960 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and community leaders, including the late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun, met at the Moulin Rouge to broker a deal with white casino owners to end segregation practices on the Las Vegas Strip.

Sun reporter Jeff Pope contributed to this report.

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