Las Vegas’ Moulin Rouge Property Sold, Hopes to Honor Its History


Posted on: December 9, 2020, 04:53h. 

Last updated on: December 9, 2020, 04:53h.

Las Vegas’ long-vacant Moulin Rouge gaming property may soon again be the site of a gambling venue.  Before its demise, it was once the sole desegregated, upscale casino in Southern Nevada.

A new casino is planned for the site
Showgirls at the Moulin Rouge in 1955. Clockwise from lower left: Barbara McCory, Jane Craddock, Norma Talbert, Lorraine Riley, Anna Bailey, Dee Dee Jasmin, and (center) Norma Washington. The long-vacant casino property was sold recently. (Image: UNLV)

Last month, a local judge approved the sale of the historic property. The new owner is RAH Capital. That entity is a new firm based in Nevada.

RAH paid $3.1 million for the 11.3-acre site, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. New owners plan to place a casino on the vacant parcel.

RAH is associated with an Australian-headquartered financial firm, BBC Capital. Last month, Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez approved the sale of the property to BBC Capital.

Under the agreement, RAH Capital has to take over $2 million in liens. The firm gets an active non-restricted gaming license from the state of Nevada.

The property takes its name from the original Moulin Rouge cabaret, which is still found in Paris. Launched in the 19th Century, it is best known as the birthplace of the modern can-can dance.

Historic Casino Known for Elegance, Top Performers

Inspired by the Paris cabaret, Las Vegas’ Moulin Rouge opened in 1955. It was the first upscale, integrated casino — where guests and performers of any race were welcome.

“For the first time, African Americans could enjoy entertainment in a space of elegance denied to them previously,” Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV and an expert on Las Vegas’ Black history, told Casino.org.

She recalled how the Moulin Rouge back then competed with casinos located on the Las Vegas Strip by offering a 2:30 am show. The performances attracted entertainers and high rollers alike.

Its elegance and high-profile performers — both black (Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington were regulars) and white (such as Frank Sinatra) — led to national attention. Its dancers were depicted on the June 20, 1955 cover of Life magazine.

Initial funding for the Moulin Rouge came from such investors as legendary boxer Joe Louis. But tough finances forced the Moulin Rouge to close after less than a half year of operation.

Some of the other casinos, such as the Dunes and Royal Nevada, were struggling then, too, but got assistance to make it through.

“None of the other hotels came to the aid of the Moulin Rouge thus the heyday ended,” White said. The Moulin Rouge was shuttered by the local sheriff’s office for non-payment of contractors.

During the post-World War II period of segregation, the Moulin Rouge also provided housing for Black entertainers who found little options other than living in Westside boarding houses.

Nat King Cole, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis, Jr. and other stars were not allowed to stay at hotel casinos on The Strip where they performed to adoring white audiences,” White said. “These entertainers entered through the kitchens of the Sands, Desert Inn, Stardust, Flamingo just like Blacks who worked in housekeeping.”

Back then, Las Vegas “was two separate spaces, separate worlds; separate and unequal,” White added.

Also, the Moulin Rouge featured the first line of Black dancers, many Black entertainers, and “an audience peppered with Hollywood royalty,” White recalled.

The hotel-casino’s history also recalls the many Black-owned or Chinese-owned clubs found in West Las Vegas. They formed a desegregated option to the Las Vegas Strip.

They often featured famous musicians, such as Louis Armstrong or the Ink Spots. Performances there were significant in the evolving musical styles of the post-WW II period.

Eventually, the Moulin Rouge re-opened. But the venue fell short of his cultural heyday seen in 1955.

Site of Historic Civil Rights Meeting

The property was also significant in the civil rights history of Las Vegas. On March 26, 1960, it hosted a meeting “that hammered out an agreement to integrate public accommodations on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown,” White said.

She noted that the initial agreement failed to resolve many issues. In 1971, a legal consent decree was brokered to open jobs to Blacks in the front of the house.

Later, the Moulin Rouge got listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But multiple fires left the abandoned site in a state of disrepair.

In recent years, several leaders and activists in Las Vegas’ Black community urged that something be placed on the site. Many were hoping for local owners.  Many also wanted to find a way that the precious history of the Moulin Rouge and West Las Vegas could be presented to the public.

“I think it is good that the property will be reinvented,” White concluded when asked this week about the sale of the Moulin Rouge parcel. “But unfortunately, the history of the location will probably not be honored.”