The latest issue of KNPR 88.9-FM’s magazine, Desert Companion, contains a must-read for local history buffs. Find it here.
The article was written by Bob Stoldal, retired local television news executive and one of Nevada’s top historians. Stoldal tells the story of the Nevada Biltmore, the city’s first resort catering to black customers.
Wait a minute, you might be saying. Wasn’t the famed Moulin Rouge the first hotel-casino in Las Vegas to break the color barrier?
According to Stoldal’s research, no — sort of. The Nevada Biltmore was constructed in 1942 on the northeast corner of Main Street and Bonanza Road. The place didn’t do too well and ran through a few owners. In 1949 the latest owners decided to change up their approach and appeal to the black community, much of which lived nearby.
It was not an integrated hotel, the owners emphasized. “The community was not ready for that,” Stoldal writes, “but it might be ready for a resort ‘operated for colored trade exclusively.’”
This being 1949 in “the Mississippi of the West,” the news did not sit well with city leaders, who enforced a strict Jim Crow policy. The city commission, as it was then known, called a special meeting to revoke the licenses of the Biltmore owners. This triggered an angry response from the hotel’s owners as well as the black community. Public meetings on the matter were packed, and passionate pleas for justice were registered.
But the commission, beholden to the casino industry as well as the segregationist mood of the day, refused to budge. As a result, the Nevada Biltmore served black customers for just a few weeks before it closed down. The property later reopened briefly as the Shamrock, then became a furniture store.
A few years ago, during all the big talk about the "Manhattanization of Las Vegas," plans were in place to build a high-rise condo on the Main/Bonanza property but it was the worst location for such a project that anyone could possibly think of and the project died quietly.
Today, the Moulin Rouge is well remembered as the first interracial hotel in Las Vegas. It graced the cover of Life magazine in 1955 and attracted an array of black and white entertainers. The Moulin Rouge is more important than the Nevada Biltmore specifically because it was open to people of all races, not just one. But the story of the Nevada Biltmore nonetheless is an important new piece in the history of Las Vegas. Credit Bob Stoldal for bringing this to light.