The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is just a few days away. Today, reader Blair explains how a innocuous-looking mid century modest house — the Ruth Paine House Museum, above — came to be associated with this tragic event. Blair visited the house this weekend and submitted this report and photos:
Frankly, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the 1,300-square-foot ranch home at 2515 W. Fifth Street in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Built in 1956, it is otherwise indistinguishable from hundreds of other two-bedroom post-war homes constructed during the post-World War II housing boom in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But this home, recently opened to the public after two years of restoration to its appearance 50 years ago, holds a place in history few Mid-Century residences can claim — a link to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago this week, November 22, 1963. And this connection saved not only a piece of history, but allowed for the preservation of a classic Mid-Century “modest” dwelling.
Accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald spent his last night of freedom here before rising early, retrieving what many believe was a rifle rolled up in a blanket in the one-car garage, and catching a ride into Dallas to his job in the Texas Schoolbook Repository. It was from a window in the building’s sixth floor, the Warren Commission concluded in 1964, that Oswald fired the shots that killed the president and wounded Texas Governor John Connolly.
The home belonged to a young housewife, Ruth Paine, who had befriended Oswald’s Russian-born wife, Marina, early in 1963. When the Oswalds returned after several months in New Orleans, Lee took a job in Dallas, where he rented a room in a boarding house; a pregnant Marina and their first daughter moved in with Paine and her two children in September that year, with Lee visiting on weekends. In this house, Ruth and Marina learned of the assassination and Oswald’s subsequent arrest.
Joined by Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, and brother Robert, Police and Secret Service agents searched the house and questioned Marina. “Did Oswald have a rifle?” they asked. “Yes,” she replied, then took them to the garage, where they discovered it missing. An enterprising writer/photographer team from Life Magazine tracked Marina to the Paine home and arranged for the Oswald family to relocate to a Dallas hotel away from media competitors.
Paine, separated from her husband Michael at the time, sold the home in 1966. Ownership passed to several subsequent owners, each of whom had to deal with curious onlookers driving by, stopping, and peeking into the windows of the residence. Aware of its historic significance, the City of Irving purchased the property for $175,000 in 2009, and upon departure of renters in 2011, set about to restore the home to its 1963 appearance in time for the 50th anniversary of the JFK killing.
Under the direction of Kevin Kendro, Irving archives coordinator, everything from the front door and garage door to kitchen appliances, correct linoleum tile, and period-correct furnishings were replaced. A proper 1950′s roof was added. A near-match of a living room sofa was located and reupholstered a vibrant blue to match the original.
A camera, family photographs, garage tools, dishes, and glass baby bottles and rubber nipples are arranged to properly recreate the era. Correct General Electric oven/range and refrigerator were added, along with a strictly-50s behemoth washing machine. Thankfully, the period-specific knotty pine paneling and cabinets are original! The home’s only bathroom was restored to its pink-with-brown-trim-tiled goodness, accented with minty green walls!
Interpretive text and photo panels guide visitors through the home; in both bedrooms and the garage, actor’s images are holographically projected on transparent screens, reenacting events in the house from that historic day. The effect is quite amazing, and brings the home to life.
The City of Irving, Kevin Kendro and his staff are to be commended for the exhaustive research and attention to detail and “getting the little stuff right” in bringing the home back to the past. Its preservation is significant, not only as an artifact from that dark day in Dallas 50 years ago, but as an example of an everyday mid-50s Ranch home saved for future generations to see how post-war America lived.
City of Irving’s website
Tours begin at the Paine Home visitor’s center, 3rd floor Irving Central Library, 801 W. Irving Boulevard, Irving, for a brief background before a van trip to the home; tours offered Tuesday-Saturday at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Adults, $12; free for ages 11 and younger.
Wow. To me, this entire week of remembrance has been so chilling. Did you know that the “glory days” of the 1950s — what historian Thomas Hine has famously dubbed the “Populuxe” years — are generally recognized as beginning around 1953 and ending with President Kennedy’s assassination? It’s so interesting — and I think, fair to say ” ironic” — to see this mid-century modest house — which itself represents the epitome of the mid-century American Dream — turned notorious as part of the Nov. 22, 1963 tragedy — a tragedy that marked the end of one memorable American era, and the start of another.
Taking a look at our map of 59 Historic Mid-Century Houses You Can Visit, I also think this is one of the very few mid-century modest houses completely restored and open to public tours.
Thank you, Blair. I greatly appreciate your story. It is a wonderful, wonderful addition to our archive of mid century homes — modern and modest alike — and their fascinating place in American history. xoxo