Filmmaker Armstrong grew up on the Westside, where the empty Moulin Rouge cast a long shadow every morning. Born the year after the Rouge closed, Armstrong has spent three years documenting its history. Last fall, screening a cut of his upcoming documentary, The Misunderstood Legend of the Las Vegas Moulin Rouge, he smiled at a shot of the crowd lined up outside the casino on opening night.
“What a night!” he said. “I wish I could have been there. But it couldn’t last. It’s a shame it closed, but what was the future for the ‘First Interracial Hotel’? Integration would have killed it in the ’60s anyway, because who needs an interracial hotel on the wrong side of the tracks once the Sands and the Trop are integrated?”
On a recent visit to the flattened National Historic Site, Armstrong kicked a pebble past the weedy spot where Joe Louis greeted opening-night guests in 1955. The Westside is still mostly African-American, but without the Rouge and other local businesses that thrived in the ’50s, the neighborhood is quieter, more desolate than ever. This vacant lot’s gaming license was still in order on the day of his visit, thanks to last year’s eight-hour reappearance of the pop-up casino, but Armstrong didn’t expect the Rouge to rise again. He was sure the latest plans to rebuild it would come to nothing. Comparing the site to Camelot, he said, “In its one shining moment, the Moulin Rouge brought pride to black Las Vegas. Pride and hope. In that moment, the Rouge changed the world. And then the world moved on.”