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After fire, crews demolish Las Vegas Moulin Rouge building

Updated October 5, 2017 - 8:53 pm

What remained of the nation’s first racially integrated hotel-casino was demolished Thursday after flames swallowed the building, nestled in the heart of the Historic Westside.

“It was deemed to be an emergency, and that’s why it was brought down,” said Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman. “The building was totally destroyed.”

Crews fought the blaze for several hours.

The Moulin Rouge, located at 900 W. Bonanza Road, started burning shortly before sunrise. It is unclear how the blaze began, because when firefighters arrived, the building was fully engulfed.

“We weren’t able to go inside the building to even think about investigating it,” Szymanski said.

More than 60 firefighters responded, including crews from the North Las Vegas Fire Department. No one was injured.

Szymanski said the plan was to save the historic building’s skeleton, but once it was clear that it had been gutted, city officials met and agreed that demolition was the safest course of action.

The former Moulin Rouge had been reduced to a pile of scraps by late afternoon Thursday. City crews were still on the scene, and the odor of smoke wafted across Bonanza Road.

Crews only took down the building that burned. Some of the other structures on the 15-acre site remained on Thursday.

“The fear on that was that it was going to continue to be a fire hazard,” city Communications Director David Riggleman said.

The demolition comes at a time when the property is at a crossroads: Three groups, including Clark County, had put in bids to buy the land as of late last week.

A judge was expected to decide last Friday whom the property’s next owner will be, but that was delayed, and the decision has been extended to next week, said Katherine Duncan, president of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce and a fierce proponent of Moulin Rouge revitalization.

“If the courts would have ruled on Friday like they were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened,” Duncan said Thursday.

The Moulin Rouge opened in 1955, when the rest of Las Vegas casinos were segregated. Popular black entertainers could perform in shows on the Strip but couldn’t stay.

Luck ran out quickly for the original Moulin Rouge; it was open for only six months. But the Moulin Rouge hosted a meeting in 1960 that effectively ended segregation in Las Vegas casinos and resorts.

It was unclear Thursday whether the fire and demolition would pose a threat to the site’s historic designation. In 2010, a historian with the National Parks Service said the Moulin Rouge’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places could be threatened if the remaining structures were torn down.

Other fires have torn through the former Moulin Rouge over the years. It was gutted in 2003, and at least three fires were set there over the summer. But the most recent fire proved to be its demise.

In September, city officials hoped to demolish the building, calling it a hazard and a nuisance. It’s a common, ramshackle shelter for people who live on the street, and last weekend, the building’s current owners reported that criminals had stripped some of the building’s remaining copper wires.

“That location is so historic for the Las Vegas community and the African-American community,” UNLV Oral History Research Center Director Claytee White, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said last month. “We want to make sure we don’t do something we regret. We don’t want the history of the Moulin Rouge to be forgotten.”

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @rachelacrosby. Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter. Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Max Michor contributed.

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