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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

  1. 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.

  2. JKaye says:

    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.

  3. tammyCA says:

    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.

  4. JKM says:

    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.”

  5. JKM says:

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. Erin O. says:

    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.

    1. 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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