The Neon Dream: The Moulin Rouge

The First Integrated Casino in Las Vegas, Fifty Years Later

Posted by Chuckmonster

Seeing dollar signs and a changing atmosphere in America, a small group of investors hatched the idea of an integrated hotel in a narrow slot of a neighborhood called the "Jackson Strip". The Jackson Strip bordered the white neighborhoods surrounding the Strip/Downtown and the mostly black West Las Vegas. The plan was to have a hotel that was completely integrated, porters, waiters, bell hops, dealers, patrons, entertainers, pit bosses... ebony and ivory living together peacefully at the craps table and buffet lines. Architecturally, the Moulin Rouge was a two building affair which contained a hotel, a casino and a showroom. Standing to the right of the front entrance a wood shingled coupla capping a gradually sloping rectangular edifice adorned with a painting of Paris' Eiffel Tower on the side. Moulin Rouge's fantastic logo sign was designed by Betty Willis, whom, four years later would design the famed "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas NEVADA" sign on the southern end of the Strip.

Opening night was a blast for the ages, hosted by boxing champ Joe Louis (who later became a greeter at Caesars Palace). The entertainment for the evening consisted of The Platters (a couple of surviving o.g. Platters currently perform at the Sahara), a 7-year-old tap dancing phenomenon named Gregory Hines, Benny Carter's big band and a 29-girl chorus line culled from national auditions who topped off the evening with a show stopping can-can. The grand opening festivities were such a blowout that the Moulin Rouge's can-can girls graced the cover of Life Magazine three weeks later. The Moulin Rouge became the late-nite Vegas hot spot, with impromptu sets by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, George Burns, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.. Shows were so well received that a third show was added at 2:30am. It seemed as if yet another gamble in the desert was going to pay off, an integrated gamble no less.

In the mid 1950's, Las Vegas was going through one of its construction boom cycles. In addition to the Moulin Rouge, 1955 brought the opening of The Dunes, The New Frontier, The Riviera and the Royal Nevada. The general laws of supply and demand state that prices will tend to fall when the quantity supplied exceeds the quantity demanded. This applies to the casino industry as well. Like a moth trapped in the bug zapper, the Moulin Rouge flamed out quickly and without notice in October 1955, after a mere 6 months on the block. When Federal bankruptcy agents raided the Moulin Rouge, patrons, dealers, pit bosses, basically everybody grabbed everything they could, particularly casino chips and scampered out the door. It is reported that numerous gamblers ran out of the casino with fistfuls of $100 chips in their hands. The government sealed the casino and confiscated all chips and contents of the casino cage. Agents promptly cancelled all chips seized in the raid by drilling a hole right through them. In casino chip collector circles, undrilled original Moulin Rouge $5 and $25 chips in mint, un-warped condition are considered a holy grail of chip collecting, and fetch prices around $1000.

There she stood. A jewel in the desert where 'money plays' regardless of the color of the hand that dropped it on the table. Who would've known that for the next 50 years, the Moulin Rouge, in its quiet closure would mirror the struggle that brought it into being. Silently.

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