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July 31, 2014

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In ‘sad moment,’ Moulin Rouge demolition moves forward

Remaining structures to be razed so historic property can be redeveloped

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Sun File Photo

The Moulin Rouge opened May 24, 1955. The Moulin Rouge was the first fully integrated hotel in Las Vegas, attracting prominent performers such as Pearl Bailey and Louie Armstrong — who were allowed to perform on the Strip but were banned from gambling or staying at hotels there.

Moulin Rouge - a look back

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

Map of Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center

Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center

900 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas

The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday rejected an appeal to keep the three remaining structures at the historic Moulin Rouge site in downtown Las Vegas from being demolished.

"This is a sad moment in the city's history," Mayor Oscar Goodman said before the unanimous vote.

"...There's no question that the Moulin Rouge symbolically has stood as a beacon as to the city's position as far as our history on segregation and desegregation," Goodman said. "And that's a lesson that should never be forgotten."

However, Goodman said, Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow has been adamant that the Moulin Rouge, 840 W. Bonanza Road, must be redeveloped for the benefit of the entire city and the residents who live nearby.

Goodman said he had been to several groundbreakings for projects at the historic building "that would have brought back the old days. ... Each and every one of those projects dissipated and turned into dust."

The city's Historic Preservation Committee voted in June to approve that the remaining structures at the blighted property be demolished.

The appeal of that action was made by Patricia Hershwitzky, secretary of the Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center.

Hershwitzky said if the three structures were removed, it could lead to a "delisting" of the site on the national historic register.

"And the sign is not sufficient to retain that historic listing," she said.

She also said there needs to be time to investigate a claim being made that the Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center has a 99-year lease on property next to the tower at the site to operate a museum.

Those making the appeal say the state granted the museum $250,000 to operate a museum on the site and that $48,000 was paid to the former owner of the site to secure a 99-year lease on property adjacent to the tower. The property owner, Jory Schoell, who represented Olympic Coast Investments, said the title to the property reflected no such lease.

However, the council decided that was a private property matter and it needed to allow the demolition of the structures to go forward so the blighted property could be sold and developed.

Hershwitzky also said that while some people see the remaining structures as a negative, she looked at them as a positive.

"It was interesting that in June of 1955, that Hank Greenspun (founder of the Las Vegas Sun) at that time wrote when the Moulin Rouge had only been open about a month that ‘there were forces or factions in town that will not stop to wreck the experiment of the Moulin Rouge,’" Hershwitzky said.

However, it was a success for the six months it was open in 1955, she said.

"It was not only the first racially integrated casino-hotel in the United States, it drew the mega-stars as well and international attention," she said. The Rat Pack, Milton Berle and other leading entertainers of the time performed there, she said.

Barlow, whose ward includes the property, said it was a "sad day" for the council to have to take that action on the property.

The hotel was created specifically as an interracial luxury resort where black performers barred from staying at Strip hotels were allowed to gamble, dine and stay in hotel rooms.

Although it was open from only May to October 1955, the Moulin Rouge later took on a civil rights role. In 1960, it was the site for a meeting of local civil rights leaders, business and civic leaders to meet with local casino-hotel operators to end the Jim Crow segregation policies of Las Vegas.

In the 1990s, the Moulin Rouge was reopened and remained open for 13 years, she said.

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 »

It was destroyed by fire in 2003, leaving only the historic sign, tower and façade.

Barlow said that after a 2009 fire occurred at the former hotel and casino, the property, "went down really fast."

Barlow, who joined in on the unanimous vote to reject the appeal, said, "We're at a point to where the site has become a true blight to the community."

After the 2009 fire, the hotel building behind the front façade and tower was partially demolished by the fire department. The sign was moved to the Neon Boneyard museum for storage a few days before the fire occurred, Barlow said.

Barlow said redevelopment in the area hinges on the city cleaning up such blighted properties.

"We have our broom and our dust pan and we're going to sweep it up, and we're going to get it clean," he said. "... We're moving in the right direction to accomplish that task."

Barlow and Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian also asked the owners to preserve the remaining pink pillars that are still inside the building for historic purposes so they can be saved. Schoell said that can be done.

Barlow said he and others in the community would like to see the old Moulin Rouge sign that's now in the Neon Boneyard come back to the site when the property is sold and new developers begin a project. Or he would like to see the city "light that sign back up" somewhere else.

"It's a true piece of the Las Vegas history," he said.

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