Las Vegas' First Integrated Casino
By Mary M. Gafford, Las Vegas
It was in 1954 that Will Max Schwartz, a Caucasian, saw the need for an integrated casino in Las Vegas. Attorney Tom Foley was selected as legal representative for such a creation. Foley frequently defended the existence of what was to be named the Moulin Rouge.
Over the past 50 years, the Moulin Rouge has served as a legend all by itself.
Located at 900 West Bonanza, the Moulin Rouge was the first interracial casino/hotel in Las Vegas and, of course, in our nation. The grand opening was May 24, 1955. Former boxer Joe Lewis was the official greeter. He held some stock in the business as well.
The Moulin Rouge had black dealers, cocktail waitresses, and dancers. It catered to a totally interracial group of people from Las Vegas, from Hollywood, and from throughout the U.S. The decor was unique and lovely. The service was great! It was as though "for one shining moment there was Camelot!"
Many of the Strip entertainers flocked to the Moulin Rouge after-hours to see the infamous "third show" held at 2:30 in the morning. Jazz giant Benny Carter was the first musical director and bandleader. Carter entertained such famous people as Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Pearl Bailey, and Bob Hope.
Unfortunately Moulin Rouge's prosperity was short-lived. In November 1955, six months after its glamorous opening, the hotel/casino closed. Why? Some felt it was because of poor management. Others blamed it on pressure from the Strip. Moulin Rouge's entertainment director Bob Bailey (cousin of Pearl Bailey) attributed the closing to pressure from the banks that were holding the mortgage. That rumor was never verified, however.
Over the years many rumors have come and gone regarding the resort's re-opening. Hopes for that went up in smoke (literally) when an arson fire gutted this historical Las Vegas casino a little over a year ago. The famous Moulin Rouge is now gone forever. Yet there are still Las Vegas residents who can close their eyes and happily reflect on that one time when they made history as they dined and danced in the original Las Vegas Moulin Rouge!