Dealey Plaza Historic District
View from southwest, with the former Texas School Book Depository building at left, and the Dal-Tex Building, right next to it
|Location||411 Elm Street, Dallas, Texas|
|Area||15 acres (6.1 ha)|
|Architectural style||Chicago, Early Commercial, Romanesque|
|NRHP reference #||93001607|
|Added to NRHP||April 19, 1993|
|Designated NHLD||October 12, 1993|
Dealey Plaza is a city park in the West End district of downtown Dallas, Texas. It is sometimes called the "birthplace of Dallas". It also was the location of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963. The Dealey Plaza Historic District was named a National Historic Landmark in 1993 to preserve Dealey Plaza, street rights-of-way, and buildings and structures by the plaza visible from the assassination site, that have been identified as witness locations or as possible locations for assassins.
Dealey Plaza was built on land donated by early Dallas philanthropist and businesswoman Sarah Horton Cockrell. It was the location of the first home built in Dallas, which also became the first courthouse and post office, the first store, and the first fraternal lodge. It is sometimes called the "birthplace of Dallas". The plaza was completed in 1940 as a WPA project on the west edge of downtown Dallas where three streets converge (Main Street, Elm Street, and Commerce Street) to pass under a railroad bridge known locally as the "triple underpass."
The plaza is named for George Bannerman Dealey (1859–1946), a civic leader and early publisher of The Dallas Morning News, who had campaigned for the area's revitalization. Monuments outlining the plaza honor previous prominent Dallas residents and predate President John F. Kennedy's visit by many years. The monument honoring President Kennedy, in the form of a cenotaph, is one block away.
Dealey Plaza is bounded on the south, east, and north sides by 100+ foot (30+ m) tall buildings. One of those buildings is the former Texas School Book Depository building, from which, both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded, Lee Harvey Oswald fired a rifle that killed President Kennedy. There is also a grassy knoll on the northwest side of the plaza. At the plaza's west perimeter is a triple underpass beneath a railroad bridge, under which the motorcade raced after the shots were fired.
Today, the plaza is typically visited daily by tourists. The Sixth Floor Museum now occupies the top two floors of the seven-story former Book Depository. Since 1989, more than six million people have visited the museum.
The National Park Service designated Dealey Plaza a National Historic Landmark District in 1993, roughly encompassing the area between Pacific Avenue, Market and Jackson Streets and the former railroad tracks. Therefore, nothing of significance has been torn down or rebuilt in the immediate area. (A small plaque commemorating the assassination is located in the plaza.)
Visitors to Dealey Plaza today will see street lights and street signs that were in use in 1963, though some have been moved to different locations and others removed entirely. Buildings immediately surrounding the plaza have not been changed since 1963, presenting a stark contrast to the ultra-modern Dallas skyline that rises behind it.
Over more than half-a-century, Elm Street has been resurfaced several times; street lane stripes have been relocated; sidewalk lamp posts have been moved and added; trees, bushes and hedges have grown; and some traffic sign locations have been changed, relocated or removed. In late 2003, the city of Dallas approved construction project plans to restore Dealey Plaza to its exact appearance on November 22, 1963. The first phase of the restoration, which spent $700,000 for repair work and plumbing along Houston Streets, was completed in 2008.
The grassy knoll is a small, sloping hill inside the plaza that became well-known following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The knoll was above Kennedy and to his right (west and north) during the assassination on November 22, 1963.
This north grassy knoll is adjacent by the former Texas School Book Depository building along the Elm Street abutment side street to the northeast, Elm Street, and a sidewalk to the south, a parking lot to the north and east and a railroad bridge atop the triple underpass convergence of Commerce, Main and Elm streets to the west.
Located near the north grassy knoll on November 22, 1963, there were several witnesses, three large traffic signposts, four sidewalk lamp posts, the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure including its two enclosed shelters, a tool shed, one 3.3 foot (1 m) high concrete wall connected to each of the pergola shelters; ten tall, wide, low-hanging live oak trees; a five-foot (1.5 m) tall, wooden, cornered, stockade fenceline measured at approximately 169 feet (53.6 m) long; six street curb sewer openings, their sewer manholes and their interconnecting large pipes; and several 2 to 6 foot (0.6 to 1.8 m) tall bushes, trees and hedges.
The term "grassy knoll" were first used to describe this area by reporter Albert Merriman Smith of UPI, who was riding in the press "pool car" following the motorcade and had use of the car's radio-telephone. In his second dispatch from the car just 25 minutes after the shooting, he said, "Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the president's car, probably from a grassy knoll to which police rushed." These words were then repeated on national television by CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in his second CBS bulletin on the shooting.
Out of the 104 Dealey Plaza earwitness reports published by the Commission and elsewhere, 56 recorded testimony that they remembered hearing at least one shot fired from either the Depository or near the Houston/Elm Street intersection. 35 witnesses recorded testimony of at least one shot fired from either the grassy knoll or the triple underpass. Eight stated that they heard shots being fired from elsewhere, and five testified that the shots were fired from two different directions.
Because of the persistent debate, answered and unanswered questions, and conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination as well as the possible related role of the grassy knoll, the term "grassy knoll" has come to also be a modern slang expression indicating suspicion, conspiracy, or a cover-up.