"It's a great loss. It was a great piece of what Las Vegas was about then," says Alan Hess, author of "Viva Las Vegas: After-Hours Architecture," an architectural history of the city.
"It was the only place you could go and walk in and get a feeling of what Las Vegas was like in the heyday of the 1950s," says Hess, who has given tours of the building to students and historians. "It wasn't in good shape, but at least it was all there."
But the Moulin Rouge's history as the city's first integrated casino transcends the physical structure. White patrons went out of their way to partake of the night life there a full five years before the formal end of segregation in March 1960.
"It was certainly a memorial to all the things it represented during the time it did exist," says Bob Bailey, the longtime civic leader who first came to Las Vegas as a Moulin Rouge entertainer. "It brought the city into the 20th century."
The legend is fueled in part by its brevity. The Moulin Rouge lasted only six months as a full-fledged casino after its grand opening May 26, 1955.
Bailey says those few months proved that a black work force could handle any job in gaming, and that "whites and blacks could congregate without any problem."
Opening-week advertisements billed the Moulin Rouge as "a truly cosmopolitan hotel," but Bailey says people were surprised how true the ad would prove.
Strip hotels took out the typical "welcome to town" newspaper ads, but the real reason for supporting the new casino was "they thought it would be a home for black patrons, so they wouldn't feel bad about telling them no" to staying on the Strip, where Jim Crow attitudes still held sway, Bailey says.
However, the casino did attract white patrons from the Strip. During the 2:30 a.m. performances of Club Rouge's "Tropi-Can Can" revue, "the whole Strip emptied out," says Bailey's wife, Anna, who danced in the show. She was one of 27 female dancers in the revue that was featured on the cover of Life magazine.
"We were working our heart out because we were so happy to be in a place like that," she says.
While the likes of the Platters, Gregory and Maurice Hines, and jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal worked the stage or lounges, the stars in the audience -- Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte -- attracted just as much attention.
"It was the place to meet," Bailey says, noting entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson could entertain their black show-business friends there. "The crowds would follow them."
"It was exciting and different, a breakthrough in the social mores of the town," he adds. "Other places in town didn't have that aura. It was an atmosphere you could only get at the Moulin Rouge."
Former heavyweight boxing champ Joe Lewis was the casino's first big attraction, when he was given an ownership interest in the casino to serve as a host and greeter.
A couple of factors are suspected of fueling the quick demise of the Moulin Rouge, which was financed by Los Angeles Realtor-hotelier Alexander Bisno and New York restaurateur Lou Rubin. Bailey says Strip casinos probably pressured the holders of short-term notes because the Moulin Rouge was siphoning traffic and big players.
Wally Ogle, who was stage manager during the casino's heyday, also recalled in 2001, "The money was going out the back door as fast as it was going in the front."
The Moulin Rouge went bankrupt and was put up for sale through District Court. Its 105 hotel rooms reopened on a limited basis for the New Year's holiday of 1956-57. It continued sporadically as a motel and bar over the years, but never again operated as a full casino.
The Moulin Rouge did play host to the March 1960 meeting in which then-Gov. Grant Sawyer and civic leaders signed an agreement with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to end segregation on the Strip.
In late 1992, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, after then-owners Joe and Sarann Knight Preddy lobbied for its nomination through the Nevada State Advisory Board for Historic Preservation and Archeology.
The Moulin Rouge opened only a few days after the Dunes, but "was a better piece of architecture than the original Dunes, which was basically just a large motel," says Hess, the architecture critic for the San Jose Mercury News.
"It was definitely modern with a capital `M,' " Hess adds. While downtown's Golden Gate and El Cortez casinos still preserve the 1940s era of "sawdust joints," the Moulin Rouge "had the sophistication of the Strip, a very definite aesthetic and style."
News reports of the day cited the hotel-casino as a $3 million investment, though the appraised value for the bankruptcy sale was $1.85 million.
Several plans for the property were announced over the years, from the Preddy family's longtime dream of reopening the casino during the 1980s to a failed effort earlier this year by the Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Affairs Center group to gain a grant from the state Commission for Cultural Affairs for restoration efforts.
Others interested in the Moulin Rouge included the Mashantucket Pequot Indians, owners of the highly successful Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn., who explored the property in 1996, and local casino developer Bob Stupak, who announced interest in the property briefly in 1999.
The city of Las Vegas tried in 1995 to help restore the property by applying for a $1.8 million federal grant, which was rejected. The city then dropped a request for a $9.5 million federal loan guarantee because of fears the loan might not be repaid by those restoring the property. Several other plans for the casino failed because of fund-raising problems.
Story by MIKE WEATHERFORD of the Las Vegas Review Journal.