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The Neon History Of Southern Nevada's Black Community

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Neon Museum

February is Black History Month, and the Neon Museum is celebrating with an emphasis during its tours on the parts of its collection connected to Black history.

One of the most important parts of its collection connected to Black history is actually its visitors' center. The museum's visitors' center was once the lobby of the La Concha Hotel, which sat on the Strip for decades.

The hotel was designed by Paul Revere Williams, a pioneering African American architect, explained Dawn Merritt, the vice president of marketing for The Neon Museum.

"He was known as the architect to the stars," she said, "Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra. He really was a pioneer at the time."

Besides designing the La Concha, he also designed the Guardian Angel Catholic Church, which also sits just a couple of yards off the Las Vegas Strip, and Berkley Square, a middle-class neighborhood in the Historic Westside built in the 1950s.

"He has touched many, many buildings," Merritt said.

The La Concha has a space-age look similar to the Los Angeles International Airport, which Williams had been part of designing. 

Another important part of the museum's collection is the Moulin Rouge sign. 

The Moulin Rouge was the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas. It was only open for a few months, but it was influential in efforts to desegregate the city.

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"It became very popular with Strip entertainers," Merritt said, "At that time, in the country and in Las Vegas, Black entertainers could perform on the Strip, but they, generally, couldn't stay there."

Black performers had to stay in the Historic Westside and go to the Moulin Rouge. Other white performers would join them for what was called the 'third show,' which meant the show after the late show on the Strip, she said.

"It was just a real beacon, I think at that time, because it represented so many different things," she said.

It was also the site of a meeting in 1960 that led to an agreement on desegregating the hotels on the Strip. Members of the NAACP had threatened to strike on the Strip, but in an effort to avoid that, local leaders worked out a deal to end segregation. 

"It was significant in many, many ways," she said.

Memorabilia from the Moulin Rouge is now on display in the museum's lobby. The display is open to the public, and it features dinnerware, gaming chips and more from the legendary casino.

As for the legendary sign, it was relit in the museum late last year. Merritt said it still has some of the original neon in it. When you see it, the red neon is the original and the pink neon is the new neon the museum added.

Guests

Dawn Merritt, Vice President of Marketing, The Neon Museum

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