Las Vegas Sun

August 7, 2022

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EDITORIAL:

From the ashes of the Moulin Rouge site spring hope for revitalization

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The Moulin Rouge was Las Vegas’ first integrated hotel-casino in the 1950s.

The recent purchase of the Moulin Rouge site offers new hope that the historic property will finally get the respectful treatment it deserves.

The new owner, Australia-based investment firm RAH Capital, recently reported to the Las Vegas City Council that it bought the site with an eye toward building a casino resort on it. The group reportedly paid $3.1 million for the site and agreed to assume about $2 million in liens.

“My client’s very excited about doing a casino project on the property, has already engaged with some community members, understands the history of the site and my client looks forward to working with the city on planning a great project for that site,” said a representative for the firm, local attorney Josh Reid, last month before the council.

Such a development would be outstanding for the economic vitality of the Historic Westside Las Vegas neighborhood and the community at large. It was also encouraging to hear the new owners give a nod to the historical significance of the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas and beyond, which is an indication that they’ll pay tribute to it in their project.

That’s critical for any development at the site. As the first ethnically integrated hotel in Las Vegas, Moulin Rouge has a special place in the city’s legacy and in the civil rights movement nationwide.

The hotel’s development in the mid-1950s came at a time when Las Vegas was deeply segregated. Blacks were barred from Strip properties in nearly all capacities — Black tourists and locals were prohibited from patronizing or working in the resorts except in back-of-house service roles, while Black performers on the Strip were forbidden from staying there after they left the stage.

When the Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 three miles north of the Strip, it was the only hotel where interracial crowds could gather for dining and entertainment. Built at a cost of $3.1 million — about $34 million today, adjusted for inflation — the hotel drew some of the biggest stars of the day, both Black and white.

The hotel lasted only six months and closed under circumstances that remain murky today, but it had already established itself as a bright spot in the history of Las Vegas.

In 1960, it further burnished its place in the community’s legacy when, while still vacant, it was the site of successful negotiations between Black Las Vegans and white local and state leaders to break down the racial barriers on the Strip. Those talks, mediated by the Sun’s founder, Hank Greenspun, came after local Black leaders announced they would stage a protest march on the Strip unless the city took action to improve civil rights for all local residents.

Fearing the optics of the march and a slowdown in business, the resort operators agreed to end their discriminatory policies and allow African Americans to patronize their establishments. The deal became known as the Moulin Rouge agreement, and was a critical pivot point in making our community the vibrantly diverse place it is today.

Now, though, the hotel site is in shameful condition for a place that is on both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the local historic register. The hotel tower was torn down after being heavily damaged by arson in 2003, and another fire took care of what was left in 2009. Now the property is a vacant lot piled with demolition debris.

Meanwhile, proposals for new uses for the site have come and gone. Those plans included casinos, a family services site and a multi-use project that included affordable housing.

Let’s cross our fingers that RAH Capital can be the catalyst to bring the site back to life.

Understandably, several stakeholders in the Historic Westside neighborhood have expressed cautious optimism about the sale, saying they’re encouraged but want to know more about the investment firm’s plans.

Their watchfulness speaks to the importance of the Moulin Rouge site. Westside neighbors and Las Vegas residents in general rightfully have a special affinity for it: We celebrate it during the annual Moulin Rouge Agreement Day, which this year featured a special panel presentation to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing.

As the home of such an important place, we want to make sure that anything built on the property offers proper tribute to it.

We believe that passionate and cooperative work between the developers and the community stakeholders will lead to something we can all be extremely proud of.