■ Part of the re­main­ing his­toric Moulin Rouge prop­erty faces de­moltion.

Some in com­mu­nity fear los­ing his­toric sig­nif­i­cance of site

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jamie Munks

There’s scant ev­i­dence of the prop­erty’s piv­otal past: bro­ken glass, wires, dirt and other de­bris sprayed across hall­ways.

Out­side, a his­toric marker fac­ing Bo­nanza Road de­tails the Moulin Rouge’s his­tory as Las Ve­gas’ first racially in­te­grated ho­tel-casino, but cars zip by.

Years of va­cancy, squat­ters and fires have left the build­ings on the his­toric prop­erty in such ram­shackle shape, the city of Las Ve­gas has deemed them a haz­ard and a nui­sance. City of­fi­cials plan to de­mol­ish them.

The 15-acre prop­erty is at a cross­roads: Peo­ple in the com­mu­nity who have pushed for years for a re­vival of the Moulin Rouge worry de­mo­li­tion will dam­age the prop­erty’s his­toric sig­nif­i­cance, and mul­ti­ple in­vestors are eye­ing the site, hop­ing to do what many oth­ers have failed at over the years: re­vive or re­de­velop.

“That lo­ca­tion is so his­toric for the Las Ve­gas com­mu­nity and the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity,” said UNLV Oral His­tory Re­search Cen­ter Di­rec­tor Clay­tee White, a mem­ber of the city’s His­toric Preser­va­tion Com­mis­sion. “We want to make sure we don’t do some­thing we re­gret. We don’t want the his­tory of the Moulin Rouge to be for­got­ten.”

The Moulin Rouge opened in 1955,

when the rest of Las Ve­gas casi­nos were seg­re­gated. Popular black en­ter­tain­ers could per­form in shows on the Strip but couldn’t stay.

Luck ran out quickly for the orig­i­nal Moulin Rouge; it was open for only six months. But the Moulin Rouge hosted a meet­ing in 1960 that ef­fec­tively ended seg­re­ga­tion in Las Ve­gas casi­nos and re­sorts. The site’s sig­nif­i­cance earned it a spot on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1992.

The build­ing re­mained, and part of it is still there to­day, along with orig­i­nal red-tiled col­umns that lie on the open prop­erty, north of Bo­nanza Road.

Last month, the city’s His­toric Preser­va­tion Com­mis­sion voted to move ahead with a mea­sure rec­om­mended by the city’s code en­force­ment divi­sion to de­mol­ish the re­main­ing va­cant struc­tures on the site.

“They’re a dan­ger,” Las Ve­gas Mayor Carolyn Good­man said. “We re­ally can’t have that safety is­sue there.”

The com­mis­sion di­rected the city to en­sure the re­main­ing orig­i­nal Moulin Rouge foun­da­tion and the re­main­ing red col­umns are pre­served. An­other relic, the orig­i­nal Moulin Rouge sign, fea­tures promi­nently at the Neon Mu­seum’s neon bone­yard ex­hibit.

“We don’t have a lot of phys­i­cal re­minders of our his­tory,” White said.

A shot at a new fu­ture

The Moulin Rouge re­mained after the orig­i­nal casino closed in 1955, but the decades since have been largely rocky for the place where big names such as Nat “King” Cole and Ella Fitzger­ald once crooned. A fire gut­ted the Moulin Rouge in 2003.

The site had dif­fer­ent uses over the years, but now it’s a se­ries of empty, graf­fiti-tagged build­ings, where home­less peo­ple some­times seek shel­ter.

Mul­ti­ple Moulin Rouge re­vival at­tempts over the years have failed, and the prop­erty has been in re­ceiver­ship for years.

A le­gal mo­tion to ap­prove the sale of the prop­erty is pend­ing, and two other po­ten­tial buyers have said they would out­bid that sale, re­ceiver Kevin Hanchett said.

The prop­erty has been at this point be­fore, and re­cently. Moulin Rouge Hold­ings LLC held a May 2016 ground­break­ing cer­e­mony at the site, com­plete with de­tailed ren­der­ings for a full-scale re­vival of the Moulin Rouge. Two months later, Clark County Dis­trict Judge El­iz­a­beth Gon­za­lez blocked that sale, cit­ing com­pany in­fight­ing and a bet­ter of­fer.

The goal of re­ceiver­ship is to re­coup as much as pos­si­ble for the cred­i­tors, Hanchett said.

Roughly 300 in­vestors are wait­ing to be re­paid after a 2004 at­tempt to re­de­velop the site.

A range of ideas have been floated, but re­build­ing a casino on the Bo­nanza Road site is a pos­si­bil­ity be­cause the un­re­stricted gam­ing li­cense has been pre­served, Hanchett said.

For­mer Ne­vada As­sem­bly­man Har­vey Mun­ford, who has lived in the area for decades and plans to run for City Coun­cil in 2019, isn’t happy about the graf­fiti and de­struc­tion of the build­ings.

“It’s dire that we get some­one to have out­right own­er­ship of this prop­erty,” Mun­ford said.

The city’s code en­force­ment divi­sion has seen is­sues with squat­ters there and is mon­i­tor­ing the site along with the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment, city spokesman Jace Radke said.

The city did an as­bestos study of the build­ings and will soon go out to bid for de­mo­li­tion work.

Las Ve­gas City Coun­cil­man Ricki Bar­low hopes there will be some move­ment on the prop­erty in 30 to 60 days, but the city doesn’t have a pre­cise es­ti­mate of when the build­ings will come down.

Nu­mer­ous home­less peo­ple have been liv­ing in the va­cant build­ings on the prop­erty, and mul­ti­ple fires were set the week of July 4, in­creas­ing the ur­gency for de­mo­li­tion, Bar­low said.

“My fear is they’re in there tear­ing those build­ings up from the in­te­rior,” Bar­low said.

His­toric site

The push to re­vive and re­de­velop has lasted decades, dwarf­ing the time the orig­i­nal casino was open. But for those who ex­pe­ri­enced the Moulin Rouge, the en­chant­ment lingers. Only at the Moulin Rouge could African-Amer­i­cans ex­pe­ri­ence Las Ve­gas’ thrills. There was a casino, bar, lounge, the­ater, swim­ming pool and dress shop. It catered to an in­ter­ra­cial crowd and had an in­ter­ra­cial work­force.

Pho­to­graphs from 1955 show Moulin Rouge can­can dancers show frozen in time, their faces locked in a com­bi­na­tion of amuse­ment and con­cen­tra­tion as they kick, their skirts ris­ing above their hips. Headliners of the day in­clud­ing Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Arm­strong could some­times be found there after hours, fol­low­ing their gigs on the Strip. The pop­u­lar­ity boomed, draw­ing celebri­ties and politi­cians.

Good­man re­mem­bers go­ing to the Moulin Rouge later, with her hus­band, for­mer Mayor Os­car Good­man. The at­mos­phere was “elec­tri­fy­ing,” she said.

The mayor wants to see rede­vel­op­ment on the Bo­nanza Road site after it’s razed and a re­vival of the Moulin Rouge else­where in Las Ve­gas, she said.

Ward 5 Cham­ber of Com­merce Found­ing Pres­i­dent Kather­ine Duncan is “ap­palled” at the move to­ward de­mol­ish­ing the re­main­ing struc­tures on the site. She ac­knowl­edges some of the build­ings are sub­stan­dard and likely need to be re­moved but thinks oth­ers de­serve a closer look.

“It seems to me they’ve taken an ad­ver­sar­ial ap­proach to a prop­erty that’s re­ally emo­tional,” Duncan said. “What would it mean to pre­serve and pro­tect those prop­er­ties, if pos­si­ble? A se­ri­ous preser­va­tion ef­fort, not just a de­mo­li­tion ef­fort.”

Dev­erynn Bryant, who works with Duncan, wants to see the Moulin Rouge brought back, he told a Re­view-Journal videog­ra­pher. He looks back on what the ho­tel-casino in its brief hey­day must have meant to African-Amer­i­cans liv­ing in Las Ve­gas in the 1950s and thinks they likely saw it as “a place where we can stay and play and be free.”

The State His­toric Preser­va­tion Of­fice, which man­ages his­toric sites in Ne­vada, doesn’t plan to in­ter­vene in the city’s de­mo­li­tion plans, State His­toric Preser­va­tion Of­fi­cer Re­becca Palmer said.

“In this par­tic­u­lar case, it’s en­tirely a lo­cal de­ci­sion,” Palmer said.

The city tore down some struc­tures at the site in 2010, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal tower. A his­to­rian with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice said at that time de­mo­li­tion could threaten the Moulin Rouge’s list­ing on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places.

White, the his­toric preser­va­tion com­mis­sion mem­ber, said last week she needs to do more re­search to see if de­mo­li­tion jeop­ar­dizes the list­ing.

“I think they should talk to the peo­ple first and have a town hall meet­ing to dis­cuss it, be­cause there’s so much his­tory here,” Mun­ford said.

Duncan has sev­eral ideas for the fu­ture of the site, but the big­gest win would be the Moulin Rouge re­stored as much as pos­si­ble to its orig­i­nal con­di­tion, along­side an African-Amer­i­can cul­tural cen­ter. She also sug­gests a hospi­tal­ity vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­ter.

Bar­low could see res­i­den­tial or com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment on the site that’s just out­side down­town, or a blend of the two.

“On Bo­nanza, it’s ripe for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The door is open,” Bar­low said. “I’m not turn­ing away from any de­vel­op­ment. Any­thing is bet­ter than what we have right now, which is peo­ple liv­ing in those build­ings in­ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Rachel As­ton Las Ve­gas Re­view-Journal @rook­ie__rae

Dev­erynn Bryant of Har­ri­son House, a non­profit that wants to re­store the Moulin Rouge, stands Tues­day on the site of the first in­te­grated ho­tel-casino in the United States.

LIFE mag­a­zine cover pub­lished on June 20, 1955.

Rachel As­ton Las Ve­gas Re­view-Journal @rook­ie__rae

The orig­i­nal sign board at the Moulin Rouge prop­erty in Las Ve­gas.

For­mer As­sem­bly­man Har­vey Mun­ford speaks about his de­sire for a re­vival of the Moulin Rouge, although the city is try­ing to get some of the struc­tures on the prop­erty de­mol­ished.

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