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The Moulin Rouge And The Story Of Civil Rights In Las Vegas

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Las Vegas News Bureau

Moulin Rouge June 1, 1955. The legendary hotel opened in May 1955, but closed just six months later. 

The old Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino at 900 West Bonanza Road has a special place in the history of the city. 

The story of the Moulin Rouge is intertwined with the history of race relations in Las Vegas as the first racially integrated hotel-casino here.

It's astonishing to think of it now, but in 1955 when the Rouge opened -- performers as well-known as Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole could perform in sold-out venues on the Strip – but they could NOT stay in a room in the very same hotels. 

"Nevada was very segregated at the time," Earnest Bracey, author of "The Moulin Rouge and Black Rights in Las Vegas," told KNPR's State of Nevada, "Blacks could only go through the entrances of the hotels on the Strip from the rear, could not even go through the front door."

Bracey said the Moulin Rouge filled a need in Las Vegas for a place where black and white people could co-mingle, dance, gamble and see live entertainment. 

It was also a place for some of the greatest African-American entertainers to stay while performing at Las Vegas Strip hotels they were not allowed to stay at. 

Bracey said for a long time casino owners were worried about offending Southern visitors or people who had a problem with people of color. 

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"We used to be called the Mississippi of the West because of the racism that took place right here in our fair city today," he said. 

The hotel changed how people viewed a separation by ethnicity and skin color. Bracey said it became one of the catalysts to full integration on the Strip.

The Moulin Rouge was open for just six months, but it was six months that ultimately changed our city.

There have been several attempts over the years to revive the magic of the hotel-casino. However, a massive fire at the property in 2009 ultimately ended the rival efforts. 

The hotel is now just a pile of rubble along Bonanza Road, but at one time it was a "glowing sign on the West Side" as Bracey puts it. 

"The Moulin Rouge touched upon the hearts and minds of a lot of people in this town," he said, "It simply said that blacks and whites could co-mingle and they can do it without fighting or killing each other or without hurting each other and it could be a pleasant place to be."

 

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Fred Wasser

Site of Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino

900 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas

February 21, 2016

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Las Vegas News Bureau

Moulin Rouge, June 1, 1955. 

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(AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)

In this May 8, 1997 file photo, the Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino sits empty near downtown Las Vegas. Workers on Thursday, July 22, 2010, demolished the tower of the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas, one day after city officials turned down an appeal of its owners' demolition permit. 

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(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Firefighters pour water on a vacant building that is part of the long-shuttered Moulin Rouge hotel-casino in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 6, 2009. The Moulin Rouge was the first desegregated gambling hall in Las Vegas. It had hosted entertainers such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

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Fred Wasser

Moulin Rouge sign at the Neon Museum February 21, 2016

 

Guests

Earnest Bracey, author, “The Moulin Rouge and Black Rights in Las Vegas: A History of the First Racially Integrated Hotel-Casino" (2009). Dr. Bracey teaches political science and African American history at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas

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