LAS VEGAS (AP) - The first integrated gambling spot in Las Vegas
was destroyed Thursday as a fire swept through the historic Moulin
Rouge casino that had welcomed blacks and whites to see the likes
of Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat "King" Cole perform.
"This is a sad day," said Dale Scott, chief executive of the
Moulin Rouge Development Corp., which was renovating the property
and planned to reopen the casino in 2005 - the 50th anniversary of
its brief life.
"We had plans to capture that history and restore it," Scott
said. "This is a big loss for Nevada and for the African-American
culture."
The three-alarm fire reduced the relic of Las Vegas racial
history to rubble and injured two residents and a fire captain.
There was no immediate estimate of damage at the sprawling site
about a mile northwest of the downtown casino district and a world
away from the glittering Strip.
The Moulin Rouge shined when it opened with The Platters on May
24, 1955. Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte were among the
headliners to play its Club Rouge showroom.
Dick Taylor, who once managed the Frontier and Hacienda
hotel-casinos, said that in the 1950s, no other Strip hotels in the
city would accept black guests. Even black entertainers had to find
other places to stay.
"It was cruel, but that was the way it was," he said.
Though popular, the Moulin Rouge's run was brief, closing in
October 1955.
"There's two schools of thought," said Taylor, who leased the
property from bankruptcy court in 1955 and 1956 and booked guests
there on holiday weekends, when rooms were scarce elsewhere in
town.
"One theory is that insiders stole it blind," Taylor said.
"The second is that it was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"It was too close to a ghetto area with a lot of old homes,"
Taylor said.
In 1960, city and gambling leaders returned to the Moulin Rouge
and agreed to desegregate the Las Vegas Strip.
The casino was a Las Vegas landmark and was listed in 1992 on
the National Register of Historic Places. But it deteriorated under
a string of owners and renovation plans.
This month, it was listed among 11 Nevada historical places in
danger of being lost to development and other pressures.
Property owner Bart Maybie vowed to rebuild.
"We were planning on putting a second story on before," he
said. "Now, we'll just build a whole new casino," he said.
Maybie, of Las Vegas, said the casino was insured for full
value, which he put at $3 million. It sits on 15 acres, including
the 111-unit Moulin Rouge apartments, which are separate from the
casino and once were hotel rooms.
The first firefighters found heavy flames on the roof of the
two-story building at 1:18 a.m. Three alarms brought 75
firefighters, Las Vegas fire spokesman Tim Szymanski said, but
flames that shot 40 feet into the pre-dawn sky prevented them from
getting inside the casino.
Ninety-nine residents were evacuated from the apartments.
One was treated at University Medical Center in Las Vegas for
smoke inhalation. A pregnant woman was treated for stomach pains.
The fire captain was treated for heat exhaustion. All were
released, hospital spokeswoman Cheryl Persinger said.
Moulin Rouge apartments resident Martin Gutierrez, 51, said he
awoke to see smoke coming out of a vent from the casino kitchen.
"I grabbed the phone and called 911," he said. "My roommate
saw the flames go whoosh."
Gutierrez, an electrician at the complex, said he was puzzled
how a fire could start in the casino, where rolls of carpeting,
furniture and chandeliers were warehoused.
Szymanski said fire investigators were waiting for embers to
cool before entering the crumbled 30,000-square-foot casino. The
building also had offices on the second floor, and an attached
storefront church and appliance shop.
About 70 evacuated residents were bused to a nearby senior
center. Others complained about locked back gates forcing some to
walk a long distance to a single front exit.
Scott acknowledged that gates were locked in recent months to
stem crime in the low-rent complex, and said the exit plan had been
approved by fire officials.
Cynthia McNeal, 48, said, "One exit out means the handicapped,
the crippled, all had to get past the young people running."
But she credited security guards going to every apartment.
"If they got no answer, they kicked the doors in," McNeal
said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)