When it first made its name as a place where tourists flocked to gamble, see live shows, and spend a night out on the town, Las Vegas was also home to a growing African American population. African Americans started moving to the city around the turn of the 20th century, and black-owned businesses quickly cropped up on the city’s west side, where non-whites were segregated due to discriminatory housing practices. The Moulin Rouge Hotel & Casino was built near Berkeley Square in 1955, and nothing of its caliber had yet been seen on the west side of town. The building included 110 rooms, a swimming pool, and a neon Eiffel Tower and Googie-style sign. The Moulin Rouge was primarily white-owned, though a small portion of the property was in African American boxer Joe Louis’ name.
Celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Bob Hope, and more all visited the Moulin Rouge during its original five-month stint. The most popular show at the hotel was “an African-themed late-night show called the Tropi Can, which featured Las Vegas’ only all-black chorus line,” according to Alan Mattay at the University of Las Nevada, Las Vegas. Despite its popularity, the original integrated hotel and casino was only open for five months. The Moulin Rouge made another appearance in black history on March 26, 1960, when it was the site of a meeting between the local chapter of the NAACP and city officials that unofficially ended segregation in Las Vegas.
Since the meeting, ownership of the Moulin Rouge changed hands several times, and it never achieved the same level of success as it did during its brief heyday. The structure burned to the ground in 2009, and though there have been multiple attempts to rebuild since, nothing stuck until Spec Builders USA Inc. put in a bid to “build a revived Moulin Rouge and a civil rights museum on the site,” according to a May 2018 story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. A new building can never replace the original Moulin Rouge, which was listed in the Travel Guide (a guide for black tourists similar to the Negro Motorist Green Book), but there may be hope for the future of this symbolic icon of integration and the struggle for civil rights in Las Vegas. Learn more at https://savingplaces.org/stories/the-legacy-of-black-entertainment-and-activism-at-las-vegas-moulin-rouge.