VEGAS MYTHS BUSTED: The Imperial Palace was Shaped Like a Swastika

Posted on: November 11, 2022, 08:38h. 

Last updated on: November 11, 2022, 12:27h.

A popular myth has resurfaced since the Linq Hotel replaced the Imperial Palace on the Las Vegas Strip in 2014 – that the latter was shaped like a swastika because its builder-owner was a Nazi sympathizer.

Ralph Engelstad, founder/owner of the Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace builder/owner Ralph Engelstad, shown in an undated press conference photo, did many good things in his career – and one very bad thing. (Image: reviewjournal.com)

Oh, the Nazi sympathizer part was true – though Ralph Engelstad denied it, and it was never proven by any government entity. But that’s only because the hotelier agreed to pay $1.5 million to the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1989 – then its second-highest fine ever – for “damaging Nevada’s image by glorifying Hitler and the Third Reich.”

Engelstad also agreed to nine restrictions on his gaming license, to avoid a full-blown inquiry that could have resulted in its revocation.

According to a never-retracted 1988 New York Times article, Engelstad used his casino hotel to throw birthday parties for Adolf Hitler on April 20, 1986, and 1988. They celebrated what would have been the genocidal dictator’s 97th and 99th birthdays.

The Hitler bashes were thrown in Engelstad’s “war room,” a secret Imperial Palace lair decorated with Nazi memorabilia, murals of Hitler, and a painting of Engelstad dressed in full Nazi uniform. Oh yeah, and – according to the Times – they were staffed by bartenders in T-shirts reading “Adolf Hitler: European tour 1939-45.”

Engelstad claimed his interest in Hitler was purely historical and that the festivities were just ”theme” parties to boost employee morale. But the gaming authority did not see it that way. According to the Times, their investigation also turned up a printing plate used to make hundreds of bumper stickers bearing the words ”Hitler Was Right.”

Myth Understanding

Imperial Palace aerial view
This aerial view of the Imperial Palace is a myth-buster. (Image: trivago.com)

The myth of the swastika-shaped Imperial Palace – which, frankly, never seemed so outlandish, considering what happened inside the building – pretty much ended with the advent of Google Earth in 2005.

While the casino hotel had swastika-like angles, aerial shots clearly showed that it bore no distinct resemblance to a swastika or any other known symbol.

But the myth has resurfaced since the Imperial Palace was imploded – and that’s another myth because it wasn’t imploded. It was supposed to be. But then the Great Recession hit, and Harrah’s (now Caesars) – the debt-plagued company that purchased the hotel from the Engelstad family in 2005 – opted to build the Linq over the bones of the Imperial Palace instead.

So, when viewed from above, the current hotel retains the former hotel’s exact, non-swastika shape today.

Taking the Good with the Bad

Engelstad did a lot of good for Las Vegas. He built up the Imperial Palace – originally the Flamingo Capri – from 650 to 2,700 rooms, and reopened it in 1979. He also co-developed the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He donated generously to charity. His contributions included $104 million to build a hockey arena at his alma mater, the University of North Dakota.

And he was never technically convicted of a crime – or brought up on charges –  in connection with the scandal.

Engelstad later denounced Hitler and apologized to the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas for his “error in judgment.” He called the parties he threw for his employees on Hitler’s birthday “stupid, insensitive, and held in bad taste.”

He died of cancer in 2002. Two arenas – the one at his alma mater in Grand Forks, ND, and a second in Thief River Falls, Minn. – still bear his name.

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