Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Holy Ground Almost

Staff Writer
Dallas Morning News

Published: 28 October 2012 11:31 PM

The effects of time and neglect are easy to see at Dealey Plaza, with graffiti, chipped paint and cracked plaster marring the historical space.

That should change soon, with construction set to begin in November on a second phase of the plaza’s restoration.

City Hall issued a $934,000 contract this month to repair the worn pergolas, or columned walls, along Commerce and Elm streets, on the northern and southern edges of the plaza.

And the city is taking bids to restore the fountains along Houston Street, adding additional geysers and a new filtration system. That work is expected to cost $300,000 to $400,000.

All of the repairs should be completed by early summer, well before November 2013 and the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That milestone will once again turn the world’s attention to Dealey Plaza; the president was shot as his motorcade, traveling west on Elm Street, passed the plaza and the Texas School Book Depository immediately to the north.

Judith Garrett Segura, a historian and former president of the Belo Foundation, has led the effort to raise funds to restore the plaza.

Before the start of the first phase of renovations in 2008, the plaza’s overall condition was terrible, she said. And much of it remains that way.

“We’ve paid no attention to maintaining the integrity of this, really,” she said.

And that shouldn’t be the case, she said.

“It’s become like holy ground almost,” she said. “People come to it with that kind of reverence.”

The plaza, a Dallas city park, was created in the 1930s.

It might be the most frequently visited spot in the city. Each year, more than 1 million people walk its grounds to wonder about or reflect upon Kennedy’s death.

The first phase of the restoration, a $700,000 project, involved the repair of the pergolas along Houston Street and installation of new plumbing in the plaza’s reflecting pools.

The second phase is more involved and will cost an estimated $1.3 million to $1.4 million.

In addition to the work on the pergolas and fountains, the plan calls for cleaning up the Triple Underpass, possibly coating it with a material that will make graffiti removal easier.

The city has committed $750,000, and Segura has raised about $809,000 in donations for the project.

Of the money she’s raised, Segura said, $350,000 has come from the descendants and legacy companies of the plaza’s namesake, George Bannerman Dealey, the founder and longtime publisher of The Dallas Morning News. The legacy companies to which she referred include Belo Corp. and The News’ parent company, A.H. Belo Corporation.

With the city’s commitment and the private donations, the second phase of work is fully funded.

But after the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination has passed, more will remain to be done to completely restore the plaza, said Willis Winters, assistant director of the city’s park department.

That includes a pricey new electrical system, among other repairs.

That work will require additional funds, and Segura continues to seek donations. She also hopes to raise money for an endowment to help maintain the plaza in coming years.

The space deserves that, she said.

Those interested in providing assistance can donate to the Dealey Plaza Restoration Project maintained by the Dallas Foundation. Details are available at

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