Moulin Rouge demolition would threaten national listing, historian says

The Moulin Rouge hotel-casino's listing in the National Register of Historic Places would be in danger if the remaining structures on the property are demolished, a historian with the National Park Service said Monday.

Meanwhile, a group that wants to preserve what's left of the historic property wants to appeal a Las Vegas Historical Preservation Commission decision last week to allow that demolition to go forward.

"The property has to be able to convey its historic significance," said Paul Lusignan, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places. "Something has to be presented on the site."

That was an issue in 2003, when fire consumed much of the hotel and casino. It was listed on the national register in 1992 -- it is one of 57 sites given such a designation in Clark County -- because of its significance to the end of segregation in Las Vegas. However after the blaze, it was reassessed to see whether there was enough left to recognize as a historic site.

"It was debatable in 2003," Lusignan said of the reassessment. "Generally, we gave the property the benefit of the doubt.

"But when you're talking about wholesale demolition, that's a different issue."

That's the point being made by opponents of the demolition, who are scrambling to find ways to preserve at least some of the Moulin Rouge's remains.

The Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center, a nonprofit group that originally intended to place a museum in a restored Moulin Rouge Casino, is among the opponents.

The group has until July 8 to appeal Wednesday's vote by the Historical Preservation Commission to the Las Vegas City Council.

There are plans to do that, said Katherine Duncan, who serves on the Moulin Rouge Museum board as well as the Historical Preservation Commission. She abstained from last week's vote.

"We don't want to do anything to annoy the current property owner," Duncan said Monday, referring to Olympic Coast Investment, which foreclosed on the property after its previous owner couldn't make redevelopment plans materialize.

"We don't want to stand in the way of future development. But we want to make sure the interest of the museum is protected."

The Moulin Rouge opened in May 1955 as Las Vegas' first racially integrated casino, but closed before the end of that year. In 1960, it was the site of a meeting that effectively ended segregation at the valley's resorts and casinos.

The structures remained long after those dates passed, and the site had various uses over the years, but a 2003 fire destroyed much of the old resort. Another fire last year burned away even more, leaving a facade, a tower, a guard shack and some signs, all slated -- for now -- to be demolished.

A report prepared for the Historical Preservation Commission stated that the structures "are no longer of historic or architectural value or significance."

The Moulin Rouge's famous neon sign was removed for storage shortly before last year's fire.

Restoring that sign to the property probably wouldn't be enough to keep a national historic register listing, Lusignan said.

"The sign in and of itself might be a significant aspect of '50s and '60s design, but that's not why the casino-hotel was listed," he noted.

Delisting would not be automatic, he added, and a national historic register listing doesn't prevent a private property owner from pursuing a project.

"We always reserve the right to remove a property from the register if we think it's lost its historical integrity," Lusignan said.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.