History says, “This is what happened.” Preservation adds, “Right here.”

I’m in Dallas, Texas, for a meeting with preservation supporters.  On our tour, the preservation architect stands outside a building and says, “We’ll restore this building to its 1914 AND 1963 levels of significance.”

Guess the building.

It could only be the Beaux Arts style Old City Hall, where Lee Harvey Oswald was held and interrogated by Dallas police and then – while being transferred to the County jail – was shot and killed by Jack Ruby on a November weekend in 1963.

Everyone of a certain age remembers where they were on November 22, 1963 when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas.  The various members of our tour group heard at their offices (one was actually working in Dallas at that time), from their children who had been watching cartoons, and from their parents.  As for me, I remember the principal at Cookeville’s Capshaw Elementary School coming over the intercom to tell us first that the president had been shot, and then a little later that he had died.

It is history that one never forgets.

So touring the Old City Hall in Dallas today – even amidst the buckets catching water dripping through the ceilings and while stepping over piles of trash that have accumulated since the police department left the building to move to a shiny, new LEED-certified headquarters – gave a fresh focus, understanding, and relevancy to those long-ago events.

We saw the elevator where Oswald was transported between floors, and where he took his final, fateful ride on Sunday morning.

The cell, in the “maximum security” wing of the jail where Oswald was held for two nights, was as foreboding as any I’ve seen.

The office of the chief of homicide, where Oswald was interrogated on more than one occasion, remains much as it was in 1963 – minus the furniture.  Pictures from the period show the window to the larger office where the homicide team did its work, and the crowds of reporters crammed into the hallway outside this office waiting to catch a glimpse of Oswald on his way to-and-from the interrogation.

Finally, we descended to the basement where we walked down the hall and stood on the drive-through where the car waited for Oswald on that fateful Sunday morning.  A colleague – holding a historic structures report with photographs of the shooting – provided the perfect foreground for a picture of the place where the events of that November weekend spun out-of-control once more.

When I speak around the country, I often use the borrowed line, “History says, ‘This is what happened.’ Preservation adds, ‘Right here.'”  That never felt more real to me than today, walking through the corridors and jail cells where the history of the world was changed.  And I’m glad that when this remarkable old building – probably the best Beaux Arts structure in Texas – is rehabilitated into a law school, those areas that witnessed the seismic shifts that took place on a November in Dallas will be restored, interpreted, and open to the public to help us better understand how these events that so affected us all unfolded in time and space.

Yes, restoring this building to its 1914 AND 1963 areas of significance is absolutely the right thing to do.

More to come…

DJB

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