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Million-Dollar Dealey Plaza Facelift Goes to Landmark Commission

The city wants Dealey Plaza to look a little more like this.
The city wants Dealey Plaza to look a little more like this.

We've known for a while now that the city will keep the the 2013 commemoration of John F. Kennedy's assassination "classy," we just haven't known exactly how. We still don't, but we now know that it will involve a fairly significant touch-up to Dealey Plaza.

The architecture firm Good Fulton & Farrell will go before Dallas' Landmark Commission on Monday to ask for permission to do a lot of very specific things to the historic parcel on the western edge of downtown, like "renovate planting areas" and "restore pergolas." That all meant very little to me, so I called Jonathan Rollins, the architect in charge of the project for GFF.

Basically, Rollins told me, Dealey Plaza is about to undergo $1 million to $2 million in renovations. It's nothing that will change the character of Dealey Plaza -- no shiny new buildings on the grassy knoll or, if you were curious, bike lanes -- just some long-needed repairs to existing structures.

Two fairly significant changes are planned. A large component of the work will be the restoration of the landscape to its 1963 condition. "As far as we can," Rollins said. "We're not going to make the trees smaller." They will plant trees where others have been removed, repair erosion damage and otherwise make the foliage appear as it did in the Zapruder film. The other will be the installation of about a dozen signs that will mark important locations for visitors so they don't have to have a guided tour or puzzle over the "X" that marks the spot on the roadway where the bullet entered Kennedy's skull. The signs will basically be a recitation of basic facts (e.g. Zapruder stood on this spot), with no attempt at deeper analysis.

"As we talked about idea of interpretive graphics, [it was decided against] because there is some controversy about what really happened there. They [commemoration organizers] are concerned about creating a situation that will stir conflict or resentment or vandalism."

The upcoming renovations have actually been planned for more than a decade, ever since GFF drew up a Dealey Plaza master plan for the city in 2001. That proposal laid out about $5 million in repairs to the historic site, a cost estimate that is now closer to $7 million. Aside from a $750,000 chunk completed in 2006, most of the recommendations have been put on the shelf, partly from lack of funding and partly because some -- like the installation of 1963-era street lights and traffic signal -- weren't terribly practical.

The city's still strapped for cash, but Rollins said a lot of the money will come from private donors. Rollins said the initial plan was for the city to kick in $250,000, though he expects that has increased. Fundraising is still under way, which is why there's $1 million of uncertainty as to the cost. The project is parceled out such a way that, if donors don't kick in the extra mil, there are logical stopping points that won't leave gaping holes anywhere.

As for time frame, Rollins expects it will take five months to begin construction. GFF's self-imposed completion date is June 1, 2013, just in time for an expected flood of summer visitors.


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