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Editorial: Ralph, Al, Donald and Adolf

By Chuckmonster on Monday, 9th June 2014 3:29pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 9

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VT superfriend JeffInOkc is back with another incredibly thought provoking editorial. Take it away Jeff! - ED

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A few weeks ago I read a tweet mentioning that the Quad was undergoing renovations to the shopping areas that are east of the elevators on the ground floor. This area includes the space where the snack bar named "Betty's" was located. I responded with "A pox on Gary Loveman's house if there is nothing named Betty's when it reopens." Betty's was named for Betty Englestad, the wife of Imperial Palace (now The Quad) builder and operator Ralph Englestad. The gentleman known on this site as MinVegas shared the opinion that Mr. Englestad's admiration of Adolf Hitler was such that neither he or his wife deserved any memorialization at the property. I think this is too complex an issue for Twitter, so I'm hoping Mr. Monster will allow it to be discussed here.

I will share what I know of the Englestad/Hitler controversy: In 1986 and 1988, at the Imperial Palace, Englestad had parties on Hitler's birthday, April 20. He had a private room at the Imperial Palace that stored his large collection of Nazi memorabilia. He owned several cars that were reported to have belonged to Nazi leaders, and he had paintings of himself and Hitler in Nazi uniforms with inscriptions reading "To Adolph from Ralphie" and vice versa. Although the parties were private, word obviously got out about these events, and in 1989 the Nevada Gaming Commission hit him with a $1.5 million fine for actions that damaged the Nevada casino industry's reputation. I think that is about $5 million in today's dollars. He also issued a public apology.

Englestad also had an extensive collection of General George Patton memorabilia and papers. The papers were valued at $1.45 million when he donated them to his alma mater, North Dakota State University. Englestad had a collection of several WWII military vehicles and much other memorabilia from both Allied and Axis sides. Born in 1930, he would have been in his adolesence during the war.

Recently, I watched an episode of SportsCentury on ESPN Classic, a biography of Oakland/LA Raiders owner Al Davis. Davis was born 6 months before Englestad, and was noted in the program to have had a tremendous admiration of Hitler. He considered him one of the great men of the 20th century. Davis was jewish, but was somehow able to reconcile his admiration for Hitler with Hitler's hatred of his people, and his attempts to destroy them. I'm 55 years old and I gotta say people just acted differently during the postwar era than they do now.

As Englestad became wealthy, it appears he was very generous with his giving. Some reports list his family as being one of the top 10 contributors to higher education in the United States. His estate has given away hundreds of millions of dollars. He was a leading employer of disabled people. Over 200 of his 2,000 plus employees at the Imperial Palace were classified as disabled in some capacity. Even after the Nazi controversy he received many awards for his charity and support of those less fortunate.

Now, if you see any parallel to Englestad and future ex-NBA owner Donald Sterling, let me point out one major difference. The number who have stepped up to defend Sterling during this time are, by my count, ZERO. Sterling is not known to have real friends or be considered a humanitarian.

So here's my question: does a guy who had an idiotic Hitler fixation in a different era, but gave away hundreds of millions of dollars and directly employed and helped hundreds of disabled people deserve to have any tribute to himself or his widow banished from the casino he built?



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Comments & Discussion:

It's a tricky call but i think his actions later in life overwhelm what he did at an earlier time. There is a lot to say about redemption

It's not tricky at all. Admiration of someone doesn't equal admiration of their actions. Hitler's architect of choice, Berthold Hermann, had ideology that was abhorrent to myself. But his work was iconic and mighty, and was technologically quite astounding for the period in which it was conceived. Are we not to admire the work or study it simply because it was at the hands of the Reich? No.

One thing to keep in mind with old Ralph and his generosity toward higher education is that he dropped a huge chunk of change on the hockey arena at the University of North Dakota. He ensured the controversial Fighting Sioux indian head logo appeared thousands of times throughout the building so it would be virtually impossible to remove if the team changed its name. So even some of his charitable acts were sprinkled with a generous dusting of jackassery.

Ralph was reportedly a pioneer in requiring cocktail waitresses to sign an agreement that if they gained more than six pounds they would be fired and in demoting those who became pregnant too.

So Ralph had a rich history of controversy.

All that said, people are complex. We all do good things and bad things throughout our lives. Ideally the value of the good actions outweigh the value of the bad by the time it's all over.

I'd chime in, but the last paragraph by fivehundy concisely sums up my opinions.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten a more sensitive in trying to respect other peoples' feelings and when it comes to Hitler , Nazi's,etc since I'm not Jewish I don't think it's appropriate for me to say whether I'd forgive Engelstad his transgressions or not since it will never be as offensive to me as to those of the Jewish faith. However, I do think Hitler & the Nazis' to be evil mass-murderers of American soldiers and if Ralph was a kid when he was messing around honoring Hitler's B'day that's one thing,but as an adult my opinion is he should've known better. I personally never stepped inside the IP on more that 3 or 4 occasions over a 25 year period of visiting Vegas simply because I never felt comfortable taking that escalator "down" into the casino from the Strip. And after finding out about his Hitler fixation, I just felt the whole place to be kind of creepy. I did visit the Auto Collection once and remember eating at their buffet once. I also have a coupla souvenir chips from the IP, one of which has Engelstad on it.

Wow, where to start, first off, I want to say nice job by Chuck for opening up the forum to a delicate issue, and to Jeff for putting together a nice write-up that tries to open a discussion on a very delicate topic. It goes without saying as well, but comments on here have done an excellent job of continuing the discussion as well.

I think it's telling that an argument like this still sits at a level of taboo and can be directly correlated to the atrocity of Nazi Germany's actions during the war, but as one that thinks that intelligent discussion of all things is vital to continuing development of humanity, I welcome the discourse.

I remember Jeff's tweet and had similar initial feelings, although I've changed my mind some in the time sense. I realized that one of the reasos I wanted to see homage at the Quad was more due to the IP I came to love that did not have as much to do with Ralph's management, but was indirectly a result of Ralph having to take a lower profile due to his association with those parties. So having said that, I found myself not caring as much on whether they kept something that in the name "Bettys" or not.

However, to the other point of your argument, on whether we should ostracize someone for certain decisions, I'd have to say it depends and in a case such as praising Hitler, then likely the answer is yes. I can appreciate that Ralph's age gave him a vastly different perspective on the people we only know through the history books and I also believe that the old adage that "the victors write the history" likely holds more true in the case of Nazi Germany then any other instance in the past 200 years of history.

Although let me add that my personal view is the atrocities are accurate and in many cases I'm sure 'under reported' for what actually took place.

As Blackjacker pointed out though, there are some things (focus on technology, techniques to rebuild a nation hamstrung by WWI sanctions) that we can learn from Hitler in things that he did in pursuit of those atrocities, but I think we have to be careful of the words we choose in recognizing those. This is one where one's vocabulary is paramount to articulating a viewpoint that captures one's thoughts correctly.

In that sense, my own thought is that birthday parties for Hitler cross the line to the extreme, and some of the other associated actions push it a bit too far as well, even if Englestad was not anti-Semetic and just had an appreciate for certain things that Hitler did there are far better ways to capture that, and the fact is as a semi-public persona there are additional conditions you have to be aware of and abide by that completely private citizens might not.

Ok, hopefully I didn't embarras myself with the response there, and to add an analogy, perhaps we look to Vladimir Putin right now and some of the things he's currently doing, which are a far more complicated set of actions then is currently being captured with things and it will be interesting to see how history records those actions.

I really like Jinx' post.
"In that sense, my own thought is that birthday parties for Hitler cross the line to the extreme, and some of the other associated actions push it a bit too far as well, even if Englestad was not anti-Semetic and just had an appreciate for certain things that Hitler did there are far better ways to capture that, and the fact is as a semi-public persona there are additional conditions you have to be aware of and abide by that completely private citizens might not."
While it is up to each individual to act on this information as one sees fit, I personally have to really question Englestad's mentality. In today's perspective it is way over the top for me. Of course Henry Ford, especially before we entered the war, was worse.
Jinx mentioned Putin who now is pushing to have Volgograd changed back to honor Stalin. Stalin (and Mao for that matter) were likewise mass murdering genocidal maniacs but somehow escape the stigma Hitler has.
Never forget.

Read "Deadeye Dick" by Kurt Vonnegut.

A couple of comments here, stepping forward as perhaps the token Jew in this discussion....

Discussion of Hitler, IMHO for good reason, is still a "third rail." He's generally seen by a majority of the American public as the top villain of the 20th century, and one of the most evil people of all time. So there isn't a lot of wiggle room with regards to ol' Adolf.

A collector / historian sort of deal is one thing. If Englestad had simply been a collector of Nazi memorabilia, having a fascination with WWII and the Nazi regime or something, it might have been more acceptable. Lots of people collect wartime memorabilia, after all. But he crossed the line from "collector" to "creepy weirdo" with his Hitler birthday parties, and especially his commissioned paintings of he and his buddy Adolf in Nazi uniforms.

He was no longer a historian/collector, but a sympathizer at that point. And a sympathizer to Adolf Hitler is something that you simply cannot be in polite modern society. If you print up t-shirts reading "Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-45," then you really can't complain when people get pissed off.

The Al Davis comparison is tenuous at best. For one thing, Al Davis was generally considered the biggest asshole to ever own an NFL team -- very few people remember him with fondness. For another, his "admiration" for Hitler has been highly overblown. He gave one comment to a magazine in 1981, where he said: "I didn't hate Hitler. He captivated me. I knew he had to be stopped. Jesus Christ, he tried to take on the whole world, the cocksucker!"

Later, an estranged girlfriend claimed that Davis had said complimentary things about Hitler, but those claims weren't substantiated. There's no evidence that Davis had anything near to the lifelong obsession/love Englestad had for Hitler, so the comparison isn't really a fair one.

To answer Jeff's overall question: No. There should be no tribute to, nor mention of, Ralph Englestad at the new Quad. I think sympathizing and fetishizing one of the most evil mass murderers in human history trumps everything else. It doesn't matter what sort of other good deeds he performed in his life (and as Tim points out, those good deeds often came with strings attached). CET will, like all good corporations, shy away from anything that even hints of controversy or frank discussion.

But I think they're right to do so in this case, and that includes any mention of / tribute to BETTY Englestad. While there's no evidence (of which I'm aware) that Betty shared her husband's abhorrent beliefs and/or participated in his Hitler birthday parties, staying married to him conveys at least a small level of implicit approval.

Even without all the Hitler/Engelstad stuff, CET is done with the Imperial Palace and any vestige of the history thereof. CET will run away as fast as possible from any links to the property's former history as they renovate. I'd peg the likelihood of Betty's coming back as less than 10%.

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