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P r e s e r v a t i o n H i s t o r i c

Open Window to History A look back at the improbable conservation of the Texas School Book Depository by Jonathan Moore

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Depository photo by Bret St. Clair, courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza;


Motorcade photo by Walt Sisco, courtesy The Dallas Morning News

Almost 20 years ago, an infamous building in downtown Dallas reopened as a museum dedicated to the history of events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza replicates the time and place where a sniper took aim at half-past noon on Nov. 22, 1963. Through the combined efforts of architects, civic leaders, preservation historians, and many volunteers, the museum allows 325,000 visitors annually to experience the building as it existed when JFK’s motorcade passed by 45 years ago. The former Texas School Book Depository remains an unassuming seven-story structure at 411 Elm Street. Symmetrically square, with arched windows and double-paired indented Ionic columns articulating its top two floors, the building appears the same today as when its name was indelibly seared into the nation’s memory as the place where shots rang out, suddenly terminating the Kennedy presidency. Constructed in 1901 as a merchandise showroom and warehouse for the Southern Rock Island Plow Company, the Book Depository had several incarnations before becoming a textbook distribution facility for Texas public schools. For years after Kennedy’s assassination, the building stood as a dark architectural reminder, a symbol of civic regret which left its very survival in doubt. Bitter feelings lingered for years as Dallas was besieged with a torrent of unwelcome publicity as the locale where the death of a charismatic and telegenic president meshed with the emergence of modern media coverage. Seventy-two hours of continuous news reports first took hold in Dallas that bright autumn afternoon—the Book Depository becoming the focus of images and commentary flashed to a shocked and grieving nation. Immediately following the assassination, it seemed as though Dallas might have these unwanted images stamped forever on the national conscience. Two decades later, the magnitude of that tragic event eventually gave way to a grudging realization that the Book Depository’s legacy must be addressed, and opinions came from all quarters of the city and throughout the state of Texas regarding the building’s future. The Book Depository

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