Owners get approval for Moulin Rouge demolition

Demolition work on some of the Moulin Rouge's remaining structures could start as soon as today, much to the chagrin of those who insist at least part of the historic remains can be preserved.

"Far too often we look to tear down everything," said Stanton Wilkerson, special events director for the Moulin Rouge Museum and Cultural Center, which wants to build an educational center on the property.

The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission approved the demolition permit Wednesday.

One member, Raymond Aikens, voted no, but he offered no alternatives.

Commission member Karen Duncan abstained because she worked with previous owners who tried to revitalize the property. She opposed the demolition.

No one liked the circumstances facing the property, where the Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 as the valley's first integrated hotel-casino. The casino closed that same year, but in 1960 the property hosted a landmark meeting in which most hotel owners in Las Vegas agreed to end their segregation policies.

"This is a very special place," said City Councilman Ricki Barlow, whose ward includes the Moulin Rouge. "This is a site that has such a great, rich history.

"It's unfortunate that we have come to a point where ... it is a blighted site."

It's also a dangerous one, said Jory Shoell, an attorney representing the current property owner, Olympic Coast Investments.

"These structures themselves are not very safe," he said.

Shoell was talking about the remains of the hotel's façade and an adjoining decorative tower.

Also on the demolition list are a security guard shack and two gutted signs.

Most of the attention focused on whether the tower could be preserved, even if the façade and everything else were torn down.

"We think that's a bad idea," Shoell said. "As near as we can tell, those two structures are interlaced."

Leaving a freestanding tower would make it "even more unsafe than it currently is," he said.

Demolition opponents include state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who sent a letter to the commission. The opponents maintained that some effort should be made, even at the last moment, to save something.

Talking with opponents afterward, Shoell said they probably could have any pieces of the structures that could be easily salvaged, but he made no promises about the tower.

While the Moulin Rouge garnered a lot of attention when it opened, the casino peaked early and then cratered. The hotel was converted into apartments for a time, and some storefronts operated there as well.

A 2003 fire gutted the property, and a blaze last year mostly finished what the first one had started.

Olympic Coast is seeking a buyer for the property and has been ordered by the City Council to clean it up.

The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Las Vegas Historic Property Register.

Even with the demolition it will remain on both registers, said Courtney Mooney, a historic preservation officer for the city.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@ reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.