Just Shoot Us

How else to explain the idea for messing with the Kennedy Memorial?

Jackson's dream is for a kind of informal ambience, almost like a theme park built around the assassination but in a family-friendly fashion: "The whole plaza should be a point of destination for people. I'd like to see it be the kind of place maybe on a nice spring day after you go to the Sixth Floor, you'd go there and have a picnic."

One aspect of the heave-ho scheme doesn't seem to be getting a lot of public mention: Commissioner Jackson talked to me about the possibility of doubling the amount of underground public parking that is currently beneath the Kennedy Memorial.

That rang a certain bell.

Let's say Dallas deep-sixes the Kennedy Memorial in order to build a new parking garage entrance. How bad will the city look, on a scale of 10 to 10?
Mark Graham
Let's say Dallas deep-sixes the Kennedy Memorial in order to build a new parking garage entrance. How bad will the city look, on a scale of 10 to 10?

If what we're really talking about here, even in part, is a massive public investment in parking, then the private development interests downtown probably are already pushing hard for it behind the scenes. In fact, underground parking is what earned Dallas a black eye in the first place.

Kennedy was murdered, after all, in 1963. The memorial wasn't completed until 1970. Critics of Dallas have often attributed the delay to the city's ambivalence toward the slain leader. But at least as significant was the desire of city leaders to squeeze some cash flow from the deal by putting in the underground parking that is now in place beneath the memorial. The proposed new expansion of that parking described by Jackson would extend beneath the adjacent block, where the log cabin that is not the real log cabin of the founder of the city now stands.

If the talk of moving the memorial is actually being driven by some kind of construction-related consideration involving parking, then count on it: The memorial will go. One distinct possibility is that somebody wants to kibosh Kennedy in order to build a new entrance and exit for the expanded garage.

Dallas lawyer John Schoellkopf, scion of a very old Dallas family who was a young newspaper executive back in the late 1960s, was in charge of the committee that finally got the memorial completed and dedicated in 1970. He told me a funny (now it's funny) story about the dedication ceremony:

He said civic leader Robert Cullum gave an eloquent and stirring speech about Kennedy, his murder, the city and the memorial. Then County Judge Lew Sterrett, who was pretty much a good ol' boy, got up and gave a quick little speech about what a good deal this memorial had turned out to be after all, because it provided more parking and gave the county an excuse to get rid of all the flophouses across the street.

"Boy, The New York Times the next day on the front page just gave Sterrett hell," Schoellkopf said. "They made the whole thing about his remarks, which were very short, and totally ignored everything else. The Times just killed us."

Yup. So 30 years later we want to keep our streak going?

Frank D. Welch, the revered Texas architect who is now in Dallas, published a book two years ago on Philip Johnson's work in Texas. I called him to see how he felt about the idea of sort of ooching the memorial over to one side to make way for a garage entrance and maybe some robotics. (I hate to admit that I'm such a sucker for that stuff, but I am. My only qualm would be that a picnic site with realistic robotics based on the assassination and the Ruby trial and so on might be disturbing to very young children.)

Welch was what we might call "unequivocal." He basically said the idea of messing with the memorial at all was outrageous, sacrilegious, tasteless and a whole big list of quite bad things like that. I didn't mention my ideas for the robotics to him.

He did say one thing that was sort of positive, I guess: He said it would be a real first.

"Where is there a precedent in the world for moving a memorial to a slain leader for urban design convenience?"

Long silence. I couldn't think of one. Can you?

"Where is that?" he asked. "Except in Dallas?"

Well, it's...you know...you have to think about the additional parking, and uh...no, good point, you're right, nowhere but here. We would be the centerpiece of an international debate on loutishness.

Just put the bull's-eye on us. Dollar a shot. New York Times, first three shots free.

Do you think we could leave the memorial alone, out of respect, and just sort of have the robots running in and out of it?

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