• Ruth Paine House Museum: Where Lee Harvey Oswald spent his last night before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination

    1950s-ranch-houseThe 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.

    retro-living-room-decor

    Perfect scene: My son used to Nintendo and Xboxes, reacquaints himself to the beauty and simplicity of Fisher Price kid’s toys. You can imagine the afternoon of November 22, 1963, and everyone gathered in this room to watch KRLD and CBS and Walter Cronkite broadcasting the horrible news from the event that touched far too close to home.

    mid-century-sofa

    The Irving crew really nailed it in the living room. Modest furniture — nothing too high end. Brilliant blue fabric on the couch and seat go well with the two green (non-matching) lamps. I think the print over the couch matched the original. Concession to Texas Heat and not original: central air-conditioning vent.

    vintage-furniture

    Consol stereo, Look Magazine, stylish Teak candle holders (I want those!) and Fisher-Price kids toys. The only piece of original furniture in the house is the big stereo speaker in the background, belonging to Paine’s estranged husband Michael.

    vintage-kitchen-knotty-pine

    A Life Magazine photograph taken the afternoon of November 22, 1963, shows just how “right” Irving’s archives crew got the recreation of the 1956-built Paine Home. The cabinets are original, virtually everything else had to be sourced and installed.

    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.

    mid-century-stainless-steel-kitchen-sink

    Don’t know if the stainless sink is period correct? Love the stainless trim on the edge of the sink.

    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.

    1950s-kitchen

    Folks used to save their grease back in the days to reuse for cooking! Here’s the sourced General Electric stove/oven.

    mid-century-dining-room

    Time capsule. Love the big windows–custom fabricated to replace the replacements. And I’m assuming that’s Armstrong VCT tile? Great stuff!

    retro-wood-paneling

    Sure looks like a Hey-Wake dog bone chair–but might be a close-but-not. . . in the dining area. Lovely wood panels!

    retro-VCT-floor

    Linoleum tile laid in the criss-cross pattern typical of the era. Armstrong VCT??

    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.

    retro-basement

    There’s very little that looks out of place in the cluttered garage of the Paine Home.

    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.

    retro-telephone

    Detail of the varnished wood counter top in the kitchen, along with period details. Lovin’ the salt and pepper shakers and recipe brochures!

    vintage-photo

    The degree of “getting it right” employed by Irving’s archivists extended to living room drapes–somehow, a perfect match for the material seen in a Christmas photo of Ruth Paine and her daughter was made. Incredible!

    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!

    retro-bedroom

    Actors portray Marina Oswald and daughter June, rear-screen projected in her bedroom of the Paine home.

    vintage-bedroom

    Panorama of Marina Oswald’s bedroom, where Lee Harvey slept the night before allegedly assassinating the president. Photo/text display on wall about Marina; on right is the projection screen.

    vintage-lamp

    Vintage lamp, radio, and family photos in the Marina Oswald bedroom.

    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.

    vintage-pink-and-white-tile-bathroom

    Gorgeous! You know bathrooms far better than I do, but this just makes me happy.

    vintage-televisions

    A variety of vintage TV sets are displayed in the Paine Home visitor center, Irving City Library.

    mid-century-living-room

    In the visitor center at Irving City Library, prior furniture, reprints of newspapers about the JFK killing, and an old television entertain visitors between tours.

    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

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    Comments

    1. Puddletown Cheryl says:

      I was sitting in my 5th grade classroom when the principal announced over the intercom that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I knew something terrible had happened but I didn’t know what the word assassinated meant. Mrs. Martin, my stern old-fashioned teacher shocked the class by bursting into tears. She got her transistor radio, pulled her chair in front of the desk facing the children and we listened to the news. I figured out the meaning and was chilled.

      When I got up that morning I was cocooned by small town life. By the afternoon I was aware, for the first time, of history being made.

    2. It looks like they did a fantastic job! I love how the doors and TRIM throughout the house are restored back to their “medium tone” goodness! Does anyone know exactly what is used to get that look? (Lacquer, Varnish, Shellac, Stain and Clear Varnish etc.)

      • In the case of the knotty pine panelling, shellac is the traditional finish. I don’t what they would have used on the wall and door trim though.

      • starving painter says:

        Doors and frames were probably a cured soft wood (porous) coated with orange shellac. There were two types of shellac commonly used then, white (clear) and orange (tint added). Coating trim with orange shellac was considered cost efficient, however didn’t really hold up well over time.

    3. Roundhouse Sarah says:

      I want to know Kevin Kendro’s secrets! Where was he able to source all of these period materials?! I most want to know about the flooring and the bathroom tile. We need an interview with Kevin! I wonder if he visited this site while doing his research…

      It’s a tragic story but wow, what an amazing restoration!

    4. Mary Elizabeth says:

      Having been a junior in high school and just becoming politically aware when Kennedy was assassinated, I was very much affected by that event. I count it as one of the saddest days of my life. This week has been hard for me, as all the media are showing films of that time leading up to the assassination. This house is a perfect setting for what has been called “the day America lost its innocence,” as Ruth Paine was harboring a murderer without knowing it, and her life in that idyllic little house was shattered.

      The box TVs in the photos really got to me. The one in the Irving Library looks almost exactly like the one on which my family and I watched the news clips from Texas and later the funeral cortege.

      That being said, Blair has done a tremendous service to the readers on this site by documenting her visit. Seeing his son play with the Fisher Price toys was a ray of sunshine, and I’m glad she photographed it. Thank you, Blair, for that light note.

      And by the way, I think the drop-in stainless steel sink is period correct, as are the faucets. It was one of the types you could get back then and similar to the original sink in my 1959 ranch (except mine was a double sink). The other type common then was an enamel on cast iron sink in white or colors, with the Hudee ring in chrome.

      • pam kueber says:

        Note: Blair is a “he” – I edited your comment.

        • Mary Elizabeth says:

          Oops! Sorry, Blair. I should have known better. Our family is full of people with the gender-ambiguous names–Tiffany is both a boy’s and a girl’s first or middle name, as is Avery, Brook, Morgan and Taylor.

          Anyway, thanks so much for sharing the photos and your narrative about the house.

    5. I agree with Sarah – I NEED to know how the living room drapes were made to match the originals.

      • pam kueber says:

        Fabric appears to be Boomerang charcoal by Melinamade

        Just turn them into pinch pleats….

        • It is, indeed, a MelinaMadeFabrics.com barkcloth. Unfortunately, she is going out of business!! What a huge loss to the retro loving world!

          • pam kueber says:

            Fortunately, there still is Full Swing Textiles.

            • Suzanne at Full Swing told me a month ago that she doesn’t have plans to print anything!
              I say, get what you can from both FullSwingTextiles.com and MelinaMadeFabrics.com while you can! There is still some of the charcoal boomerang and a bit of some of the other fabrics at Melina Made, as of today. The website still shows all of her fabrics, but, most of them are actually sold out.
              I know I’m buying what I can!! Let’s hope that things change, somehow, for these wonderful ladies and they are in a place to have more of their fabulous retro patterns printed again!

      • Roundhouse sarah says:

        I saw once where a lady was restoring her grandmothers old quilt. Some of the panels were falling apart so she was able to scan an intact piece with a handheld scanner and then printed it onto muslin. She then cut out the shape and sewed it in. Amazing!

    6. Lovely redo! simply lovely – I could move right in and be at home. I have a grease jar by my stove too – comes in handy for bacon grease remants.

      Last week, I had company over and the gentlemen (in their 50′s & 30′s) and the 4 year old boy were playing with Lincoln Logs and having the time of their life. Us women were putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Simpler times.

      I was only 1 yr old when he was shot, so I was taking a nap. My mom was watching her ‘story’ and doing the ironing.

      • Mary Elizabeth says:

        My mother had a grease jar just like the one pictured by the stove. It had a screen under the lid that screened out all the solid pieces of bacon, etc. She told me that she had had the same grease jar since World War II, when saved grease was brought to the grocery store to be sent to the munitions companies as part of the war effort. I have no idea what they did with the grease.

        One day in 1944, she saw a sign up in the grocery store window: “Ladies, please do not bring your fat cans in on Tuesday.” With my father away in the Pacific, that was one of the few laughs she had all week, she said.

        • As I recall, my grandmother cooked with old bacon grease. We did not have a fat can (haha) – used old jars and the like.

        • June Cahill says:

          You made my morning!hehehe

        • My Grandma also saved/used her grease. She had a canister set with four canisters for Flour, Sugar, Coffee and Tea but she must not have been a tea drinker because she used a label maker to type out “GREASE” and stuck it over the word “tea”. It still makes me giggle.

        • My grandmothers fried everything in bacon grease — potatoes, chicken, eggs, and so on. They used it to make gravy, and put a dollop of bacon grease in a pot of green beans to add flavor. When we moved to the Cincinnati area, our neighbors with German ancestry treated us to wilted lettuce salad and a warm potato salad, both which depended on bacon grease for flavoring. All of these cooks had grease cans on the stove, or kept the grease in a glass jelly jar.

          • YES! That is exactly what my grandmother did! We had bacon and sausage every Sunday for breakfast — and all the grease was saved — and reused throughout the week.

            My other grandmother: The bacon grease was saved and poured over her world-famous potato dumplings. My thighs live to tell the story.

          • Grandma (and that whole side of the family) is German. I’m very familiar with the wilted lettuce salad, also german potato salad…

            Grandma never threw away anything that might be useful — yet her house was not cluttered or messy looking. She only bought what she really needed.

          • That’s a German thing? Huh. Never knew that’s where it originated. It’s a super duper old school recipe here in the Appalachians for sure….only it’s called ‘Kilt Lettuce and Onions’, as in KILLED Lettuce. ;-) My mom has a specific deep, lidded crock that she’s always made it in. She serves her ‘Kilt Lettuce’ with soup beans and hoe cakes. In the words of the Hee Haw cast, “Yuuuuuuuum, Yum!!” :-D

    7. The wonderful restoration of the Paine house really underscores what a terrible turning point JFK’s assassination was for this country. Imagine what it must have been like to be in that house on that day – a modest, post war home that was similar to thousands of homes across the country – only to find out that you were connected to one of the greatest tragedies of our times.

    8. What a cool museum… thanks for sharing! I’ve got one of those grease cans – it’s got a strainer that I assume is to catch gunk as the grease drips through… i tried it once but was a bit sloppy…

    9. I don’t have air-conditioning, but that looks authentic to me.

      My house, in California, was built in 1956 and has the same vent over the doors. Each of the rooms coming off the hallway has a vent, as the ducts are short and run only atop the hallway to the heater unit in a closet off the hallway.

      I, too, remember the day, and how it changed everything, especially as the president had children the age of my siblings. Now, of course, I know he was a disloyal husband and suffered from all the political entanglements of any D.C. official, but at the time, it was a personal tragedy.

      We were really cheated not to have a trial of Oswald and the public investigation that would have prompted. One of the great things about mid-century is that we still pretended we had due process and impartial journalism, though I suspect even that was a fiction for some people.

      • We once owned a house built in 1952 in Dallas; it definitely had central heat from the start and may have also had central air, but the way the freon lines were run made it appear that the cooling was added later. Our return vents were at the top of the walls just like this, and the supply air was through vents at baseboard level, generally under windows.The vent being in the wall in the photo above instead of the ceiling definitely points to a central unit, if only heat to begin with. (These vents would be difficult to fit in after-the-fact due to having to cut into the wall.) The cover may or may not be period; the pic isn’t big enough to tell.

        The thing I see that screams “not authentic!” are the modular phone jacks. Those should have been 4 prong. That, and the three prong electrical outlets, but current code probably required those. I’m an electrical engineer so I guess stuff like that jumps out at me more than other folks. Also, the bathtub fixtures appear more 70′s than 50′s. I’m not trying to be whiney and nit picky, “just sayin…” :-)

        But all in all, they really did a bang-up job with this; we will have to go check it out. Only 2 hours from home!

        • Mary Elizabeth says:

          Just showed the photo of the phone and wall jack to DH, a retired phone man. You are so right! No modular plug-in jacks in those days. However, if they want their phone to actually work, they need to connect it with the current technology. We have a dial phone (red, wall-mount) from the 1960s that he installed in our knotty-pine kitchen, and it is hung over the jack, so you can’t see the jack doesn’t match the phone in period. When the power goes out, this is the only phone in the house that works.

          And yes, the three-pronged outlet with the ground is required by code now, probably everywhere. I’m sure they could not take people inside the museum if the wiring wasn’t up to code. We do have to make some concessions to modern safety and convenience in our desire to be authentic.

          • I agree that the vents look original. My house was built in 1960, and still has the original vents, which look identical to the ones in the picture. My house didn’t have central A/C, but it did have central evaporative cooling. Later on, an A/C unit was added, but it was tied into the original duct work.

    10. Excellent pictures, and I love the historical accuracy of the house’s 1963 appearance. The only issue I have is with the photo of the black Western Electric telephone. Modular phone jacks weren’t around in 1963, they weren’t developed until 1975. In 1963 the phone would either have been hardwired or connected with those clunky, four-pin plugs.

      Yeah, I know. Picky, picky. :)

      • I’m glad you were picky and explained about the phone. I looked at that phone jack for awhile, wondering if I could remember seeing those as far back as 1963. I didn’t think so. (I’m also wondering about that soap dispenser on the bathroom sink. Maybe that’s just there for the museum staff to use?)

      • Well if you want to get really picky again, houses of that time would have also had two prong outlets rather than three prong. But they probably had to update the electrical to make it a museum.

    11. Becky from Iowa says:

      My grandmother lived in a house virtually identical that, in Irving, from the day it was built till the day she died in 1991. Seeing these pictures feels very strange.

    12. Thanks, Blair, for sharing this account of your visit to the Ruth Paine home. I’m struck by the fact that Ruth Paine was separated from her husband at this time. It’s easy to read about life in these good old days, to look at photos of the homes, and to think that difficult things like marital discord and family separation didn’t happen back then. She was without her husband, and then, in a matter of days, Marina Oswald and Jacqueline Kennedy were without their husbands. This little house looks so peaceful, but it represents a lot regarding American history and human relationships.

    13. Interesting museum…they really nailed the details.
      My earliest memory is of JKF’s funeral when I was three. I remember running through our ranch home long living room with a doll under my arm and suddenly stopping cold to look at the t.v. (the furniture type ones that stood on the floor) and realizing something “important” was happening even ‘tho I didn’t understand…after a little while I continued my run through the house.

    14. The city did a great job – wow. Those modest houses don’t seem so cramped when furnished with properly scaled furnishings. With so much attention to detail, I’m wondering if the center of the phone dial has the original phone number written on it. Wouldn’t that be something? I grew up in Dallas (was 3 when the assassination happened) and know Irving’s original exchange was Blackburn so all phone numbers started with “BL.”

    15. I forgot to mention that althought the wall air diffuser looks modern in appearance and may not be period correct, a modest house of this era in the Dallas area would have been built with central heat at a minimum. There was probably a hallway closet with the furnace in it (no basements in Dallas) and ductwork would come out of it and run above a lowered ceiling (like a hallway) to shorten duct runs to various rooms.

    16. The trim on the kitchen sink is extruded aluminum. Hard to find now, when renovating.

    17. Mary Elizabeth says:

      Oh, and while were in the kitchen, the smaller plates in the drying rack are the Biscayne pattern by Salem. I just love old “everyday” dishes patterns.

    18. Wow! I had no idea Irving had done that, though it doesn’t surprise me. Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this whole month, especially this week, has been consumed with commemorations of JFK’s visit and death. Every city, institution, etc is doing something to commemorate the event. For those who are interested in JFK events, exhibits, etc going on check out http://www.jfk50thevents.org/
      I recommend the “Hotel Texas” exhibit at the Amon Carter and “Howdy, Mr. President” at UTA (I’m not just saying that because I worked on it either) LOL Both are great if you want to see a different perspective on his visit to the area.

      • Mary Elizabeth says:

        Erin, what a great service to the public you have provided! I have heard on documentaries about the art exhibit in the Kennedy suite, put together to assure the Kennedys that they were welcome in Dallas. I seems as though they never got to occupy those rooms, though.I’m too far away to visit the exhibit, but it’s nice to know people are using it to commemorate the positive side of the events 50 years ago, bu which I mean the hospitality of the Texans.

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