Remembering the Kennedy Memorial

Kennedy Memorial in Dallas

There's an open air memorial in Dallas near the spot of President Kennedy's assassination. Designed by Philip Johnson, the memorial consists of a 50-foot-square concrete box with 30-foot-tall bare walls that surround a flat granite slab inscribed with the president's name.

Outside, a plaque contains the following inscription:

The joy and excitement of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life belonged to all men.

So did the pain and sorrow of his death.

When he died on November 22, 1963, shock and agony touched human conscience throughout the world. In Dallas, Texas there was a special sorrow.

The young President died in Dallas. The death bullets were fired 200 yards west of this site.

This memorial, designed by Philip Johnson, was erected by the people of Dallas. Thousands of citizens contributed support, money and effort.

It is not a memorial to the pain and sorrow of death, but stands as a permanent tribute to the joy and excitement of one man's life.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life.

I'm a Dallas native born to an Irish Catholic family. My mother was 15 in 1963, and she skipped school with several friends to see the president and first lady pass by in the motorcade. By the time the teens returned to their car, the first reports of a shooting were hitting the radio.

It's hard to explain to people who aren't from the city the palpable sense of inherited guilt that followed the assassination, even for someone like me born after it happened. My mother told me that for years later, she was embarrassed to tell people she was from Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News has reopened the decades-old debate over whether the memorial is a fitting remembrance of the president. Writing in Slate, Witold Rybczynski said that Kennedy deserved better:

It is all, sad to say, poorly done. Painted precast concrete is hardly a noble material, and the blank surfaces are relieved by rows of roundels that make the walls look like mammoth Lego blocks. The shiny granite slab is black, but being square and low it looks more like a coffee table than a funerary marker.

I visited the Kennedy Memorial on a field trip as a child completely enamored with Kennedy, as you might expect of a young Catholic and future liberal. If there was any joy or excitement within those bare walls, I didn't find it then and would be hard-pressed to find it today. The Sixth Floor Museum is the place to go in downtown Dallas to mourn the president and mark the toll his death took on the country.

However, the Kennedy Memorial is too much a part of the historic response to the assassination to ever tear it down. The most I'd like to see Dallas consider is the addition of something that complements the work and conveys more vitality, such as light climbing heavenward in the manner of the 9/11 Tribute in Light.


What an ugly piece of crap. It doesn't serve to do anything other than trivialize the memory of the man- which might well have been it's intent. Apart from the so-called conspiracy theories, people tend to forget that Kennedy was hated by many powerful interests, some based in Texas. What better way to spit on someone's grave than "commemorate" them with a metaphorical prison that does nothing to convey "joy and excitement".

jesus christ. that looks like something you would place around a fucking garbage bin to keep it out of sight.

That is definitely the ugliest thing I've seen in a long time. It's a disgrace.

Ugly piece of crap is an understatement.

Typical Dallas move. Everything that city does reflects the interest of money and materialism. It's the 'beige bland', artsy-fartsy kind of crap you can see Dallas money supporting at the DMA, the Reunion Tower and in other pieces of architecture. It doesn't represent JFK, but it does represent why
this Native Texan moved as far away as he could get from DallASS after thirty-two years there.

Did GWBush approve this while he was Governor?

The best thing that can be said about this memorial is it is completely forgettable. I was in Dallas two years ago, but had to click on this story to remember visiting this site. The Sixth Floor is very well done. The actual assasination site remains very much the same and is particularly haunting after dark when frequented by conspiracy theorists. Fortunately, most visitors either won't make it to this site, or if they do will quickly forget it.

You know what this structure says to
me? "We had that yankee boxed in from
the moment he landed at Love Field.
Fenced him in like a crazed mustang.Put
him down with some fine shootin'. LBJ
sure did did a great job lookin' all
sad when he was sworn in on Air Force
One. Bet his mistress had a big time
that night,heh,heh,heh! Hey, whose turn
is it to buy dinner at Turtle Creek? What
do I look like, Ross Perot?"

I received this comment in e-mail about this weblog post from Annhayeslee at aol -dot- com:

Philip Johnson was a world renowned architect and the Kennedy memorial is reminiscent of all his work. Stanley Marcus, a man with impeccable taste, was prominent in the selection of Johnson to design the memorial. The memorial is somber, strong and a stunning example of contemporary architecture.

Given the location, a high traffic noisy area of downtown, the walls serve a purpose beyond design. When one steps inside the walls there is hardly any sound to be heard ... giving the visitor a moment in quiet reflection. Another meaningless statue would not have expressed what we felt as individuals or as a nation. I'm sure there are those who also don't understand why there is only a flame at Kennedy's grave site. Still a larger view is that this memorial gives people and especially teachers an opportunity to discuss art, design and music, explaining how important they were in the Kennedy's lives.

My husband designed the official dedication book and we were honored be invited to attend the dedication. Lastly, I am not surprised that a public memorial never pleases everyone. I am surprised however that people become foul mouthed when expressing their opinions. Certainly, a well researched critique would be appreciated and would not subtract from the sum of human knowledge.

does anuone know what happened to the Eagle Cast which was part of the memorial?

This is what I am asking about:

Does it ring any bells??

(Elisabeth Frink)

Her first major commission was for the Eagle lectern of Coventry Cathedral (1962), A cast of the Eagle is on the J.F.Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, Texas (1964). Tribute was made for Amnesty International in 1975. Her last commission was for the Risen Christ for the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool (1993).

It's an atrocity. Tear it down and build something more fitting.

The designer of this memorial was Philip Johnson, a skilled architect and friend of the Kennedy family. Jackie Kennedy herself approved of the memorial. And it was constructed in a period when minimalism happened to be in vogue. I say, better to go minimal than gaudy anyway.

So the memorial may not be to the tastes of many here, but it was certainly acceptable to Kennedy's friends and family at the time of its construction.

It is true, this guy has poor vision to make a memorial to hold tribute to a great man. A great man who like any other man who had imperfections. But this memorial is nasty, it should be torned down, so i can use the concrete to fill my driveway. Do some good with that shit!

Philip Johnson specifically looked to avoid sentimentality in the structure, feeling it would have repulsed Kennedy himself. See

"Kennedy was such a remarkable man I didn't want to have a statue or hackneyed 'narrative,' but sought rather for something very humble and spartan. A major point for me was to raise it above ground level and keep it simple. It is a cenotaph, a memorial for one whose remains lie elsewhere."

" There was the square city block for the memorial, so a "square" form seemed appropriate. The idea of a sacred place, like an empty tomb, struck me as something fitting as long as it was abstract. A "room" with tall walls, open to the sky, would block out the surrounding city. Of course, it was essential that there would be no sentimentalizing of Kennedy; he would have disapproved anyway! So a spare, unadorned open volume, a geometric "cube," devoid of expression or moralizing, but monumental in its empty presence, presented itself in my mind. It was essential to me that whatever I did, it should only be tacit interpretation of a memorial per se; it would be left to the viewers to find their own meaning."

Also worth mentioning is that various people on this site seem to have the notion that the monument was done the way it was because the do-ers disliked Kennedy. Stanley Marcus, who recruited Johnson for the project, was a great admirer of Kennedy and was considered by JFK for ambassadorships. He deeply mourned having been unable to convince Kennedy not to come and speak at that time (not because he ever thought this kind of thing would happen, but merely because he worried the man would be poorly received, thus doing him no good and doing Dallas' already iffy reputation considerable harm).

I'm not saying I like the damn thing, but let's at least be aware of the context, as one person already posted... not to mention that it'd be nice to see people at least be aware that a monument created in 1970 predates W.'s regrettable governorship by more than 20 years.

I don't remember ever seeing this, despite being a native of San Antonio who saw the motorcade go by in S.A. (I was 9 years old, my parents took me and my brother) the day before the assassination. I've been to Dallas a couple times over the years, gone to Dealy Plaza, but missed this somehow. It looks pretty bad, in my opinion.

Even though it seems simple, it fails, for me, because it's still too ornate. Imagine it resting on the ground, not on those little feet, and with no inscribed lines or roundels (the roundels are the worst part of the design, by far).

On the other hand, the concrete is TOO minimal. It need to be marble (black with gold veins would work, I think).

Directly behind the momument is a 12 story building that houses the county records office on the lower floors.

The upper floors, beginning with the 6th floor, house part of the county jail complex.

I was locked up on the 7th floor of that building and stared down at the monument for 3 months a few years ago.

It is without a doubt the ugliest structure ever dedicated to a person living or dead.

I just visited Dallas for the first time. I was there on business at a conference in the Hyatt. I walked over to Dealey plaza to see the site of the assassination. I am shocked at the absence of a significant recognition of the horrible significance of this site.

The plaque on the ground which doesn't even mentioned the name of John F Kennedy and the plaque on the book repository building which spends more time on the founder of Dallas than the mere mention of the assassination is completely inadequate.
This is a shameful disgrace.

I can imagine that the city is embarrassed by this event.
But the nation deserves better.

After years wanting to visit Dealey Plaza I finally made it there and visited the whole assassination site. However there is NO SIGN TO THE JFK MEMORIAL at the site! HOW THE HECK ARE VISITORS SUPPOSE TO KNOW ITS THERE!.

Perhaps as some said after the assassination people just wanted to move on and forget. I can see that from a hometown point of view. And perhaps all memorials are forgotten. But in this case there does need to be a redication with perhaps accent lights and a mourners bench outside the memorial or something. A place for people to place flowers if they wish just as a sign of sorrow. How hard is that. How much would that cost? Lights? solar powered?

We are talking maybe 50 thousand dollars to do it right. But a 300 dollar sign outside the book depository near the assassination site so people know where to go is just the least that can be done. The design is very 70's. But what do you expect? My God, it reminds me of the book depository, perhaps they should put a Hertz car sign on top!

We need to free president JFK from this jail (monument). We need to remove the granite slab with his name on it outside of this jail house. The designer's symbolic nature of this monument is to incarcerate president JFK ideas and knowledge inside. Until we understand the their intentions, President JFK will forever be imprison inside the concrete walls with steel bars enclosing. Wake up America!!!

People need to look beyond the simplicity and look at the symbolism as was stated in post #19. I admit it's not the best looking memorial but I have notice it has fallen into disrepair. The lights that illuminate the memorial at night are broken. I've seen night pictures of the memorial when the lights were working (probably many years ago) and it gives the impression that the entire structure is floating. The city of Dallas should maybe spend a little money on maintenance. It is what it is.

I think it's amazing. Constructed to give some peace to those that enter it...not constructed for you to view it for your own pleasure, but to memorialize what someone else stood for. I see so many selfish comments here, it's sad.

The family approved it and at the time it was built it fit very well. Opinions stated here are obviously from those ignorant of the facts stated in the comment above which backs up the whole reason it was designed the way it is.

It would be nice if the lighting was repaired and brought back to it's original state, but for others to stand back and complain about someone else's memorial that the family is very pleased with, is silly.

I hope it gives you pleasure to mock the heartfelt thoughtful artwork someone created in memorial of their life and death.

Take a moment and visit it, walk inside, reflect. Maybe you'll change your nasty tone and reach the artists goal for the thick walls to give you some solace so you can think about what JFK's life represented.

I was there many years ago and walked inside. The city was bustling and noisy all around until I took that step inside and it was like going into a vacum. There was no more noise from vehicles or people and even the birds couldn't be heard there. For something so plain and deemed ugly by some, I found it peacful and fitting it's purpose. I kept as silent as the place its self.

I LOVE this memorial-i visited Dallas in 1987,and was 12 when the assassination happened and never forget the trauma of that day.Now it's been restored and looks lovely.KEEP IT NICE.

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