Then and Now: Dallas' Dealey Plaza

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on November 20, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 2 at 12:42 PM

DALLAS -- It is historic ground for so many reasons.

"It was built on the spot where Dallas' founder settled," said Gary Mack, Curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

John Neely Bryan built a home on or near the land where the museum now stands. It was the city's first home, and historians believe it was constructed in the 1840's. So, it is fitting that his land became the grand entrance to his city in the 1930's.

Yet it isn't Bryan Plaza. It's Dealey, named after George Bannerman Dealey.

Dealey managed the Dallas Morning News from day one. His editorial influence led the city to adopt the master plan that would turn Dallas into what it is today. So, for the art deco city park with the innovative triple underpass to bear his name made perfect sense.

And then something happened that made no sense.

On November 22, 1963, a Dallas treasure was tarnished.

"I know that he would be heartbroken," said Judith Segura, former Belo archivist. She's spent countless hours studying Dealey and his impact on Dallas.

She believes if Dealey would've been alive, he would have campaigned to restore Dallas's reputation, but shame led Dealey Plaza to fall into disrepair.

"Everyone just turned away from it," she said. "It was too hard to look at and think about. That led to a turning away from even the focus on this part of downtown in many ways."

"Dealey Plaza's original significance was forgotten," she said.

There was talk of tearing down the building where the shots were fired that killed President John F. Kennedy. This city wanted to forget.

Yet tourists taught us, and continue to teach us, that we can't.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Deven Coggins was attending a conference of attorneys in Dallas. He is from Utah. He felt like he had to come see Dealey Plaza "because of the history," he said.

"It's funny. Until you came over and started asking questions, I didn't feel anything," he told News 8. "But since you asked me the questions, and I started thinking about it, I actually started getting goosebumps a little. There's something going on here."

The Texas School Book Depository was not leveled; it eventually became the Dallas County Administration Building, with The Sixth Floor Museum on its top floors. It is full of facts, including some little-known ones.

"When Dealey Plaza was built in the mid 1930's, it was a Works Progress Administration effort, and one of the officials who oversaw the project was some young Texan whose name was Lyndon B. Johnson," Mack said, "and almost 30 years later, Lyndon Johnson was in  Dealey Plaza when the shots were fired that killed President Kennedy."

Dealey Plaza is finally beginning to look like it was built to look, thanks to Segura. She led the effort to raise $1.5 million to restore the plaza. Dead grass, crumbling pergolas, and inoperable lights have all been repaired or replaced.

"It's great," she said, touching her heart, "just to see green shrubbery in these deep beds. That's going to soften the effect of this stark place."

"In a very real way, the whole world held people of Dallas responsible," she said. "It's a very good thing that we're getting it done now. I think it will restore a lot of spirit."

She believes Dallas is doing what should've been done a while ago; giving our founding fathers, and our unavoidable past, something both deserve -- respect.

"I hope he's happy about what's happening now," she said, smiling at George Bannerman Dealey's statue, keeping watch over downtown Dallas.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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