Local artists are working to turn a dirt lot near the Historic Westside into a destination spot honoring the Black community.
With one wall done, the trash cleared and dozens of ideas on how to improve the space that used to be the Moulin Rouge on West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas residents took their paintbrushes and spray paint to continue brightening up the abandoned area.
“This was the pinpoint of desegregation in Las Vegas. Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra stood shoulder to shoulder having a drink in this very spot,” organizer Brent Holmes said.
The Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 as the first racially integrated casino in the country, but it closed after just six months. Later, the Moulin Rouge was the site of a historic meeting on March 26, 1960, that led to the integration of Las Vegas hotels.
After falling into disrepair and multiple fires, the building was demolished in 2017 and is now a vacant, public lot.
In August, several activists started cleaning the area with thoughts of outdoor activities for Westside residents, whose homes can be seen just across the dirt.
“This space should have been historically preserved,” said Holmes, who argues that an exorbitant amount of money was put into reviving downtown Las Vegas, but not in the Westside. “This is a ghost town in the middle of the city, and if we could bring in businesses, we would have changed this part of the city. … I want to see things get more beautiful.”
Holmes invited artists to cover one of the walls in September and another this weekend. Dozens answered his call with paintings of historic Black figures, black panthers, renditions of the words “Black Lives Matter” and iconography of Nevada.
Kayla Bunting, 24, of Henderson, was just finishing the body of her black panther as the sun went down Saturday.
“It’s synonymous with Black, and this used to be one of the most important sites historically for the Black community,” she said, explaining why she chose to draw a panther.
Next to Bunting, Las Vegan Angie Castillo, 29, was trying to determine what phrase she could paint to combine the thoughts of equality and flowers to go next to her floral mural of the state of Nevada.
“Equality flourishes? Equality blossoms?” she asked herself. Castillo said she’d been waiting years to do a mural and this was the right cause for her to choose.
French Elementary School art teacher Ross Takahashi, 29, of Henderson, was filling in the blue paint from his sketch inspired by a 1960s children’s cartoon. The image showed a child exhausted from making protest signs. Takahashi went around asking other artists what they’d write on the signs for ideas.
“What will we be protesting in the future? Children today face such interesting problems,” he said.
Takahashi said he didn’t know about the Moulin Rouge until college, despite growing up in Las Vegas, and he’s excited to be part of the change.
“A lot of people don’t understand the history of the Moulin Rouge. It’s a monumental place for the community and it hasn’t been touched in years,” he said.
On the other side of the wall, Sloane Siobhan, 28, and her wife, Re’Iysa Rice, 31, of east Las Vegas, were just finishing their day’s work around 6:30 p.m.
Siobhan painted “Butterfly Boy,” as a way to showcase to Black boys that there is a different, softer side of masculinity.
“Masculinity can look a lot different than what we’ve been trained,” she said.
Her painting combined blues and reds to avoid any specific gang affiliation, she said. Houses on West McWilliams Avenue directly face the painting, and Siobhan hopes this will bring the residents new joy.
“This is a quality-of-life thing,” she said. “I hope it inspires a lot of people to keep going.”