Certainly few people in America remember the first three days of last June with the clarity that Conover Hunt does. She had just returned to Dallas from Virginia to take a job as a project director with the Dallas County Historical Foundation. In her new house the plumbing backed up; she arrived at work to find that her office was in an old elevator shaft. Then came the phone calls.
“On Monday I found out about what DART was planning,” she told me. “On Tuesday I found out about the city. On Wednesday, the third of June, I found out about the state.”
“Is that also when you found out about the archeologist?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” she said, lighting a fresh cigarette and taking a long drag. “That wasn’t until June fifteenth.”
The project that Conover Hunt returned to direct is called “The Sixth Floor.” The name refers to an area in the old Texas School Book Depository. There, in late November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald sat with a mail-order rifle propped on cardboard boxes as President Kennedy rode in a black convertible through downtown Dallas.
“The Sixth Floor” is not intended as a memoriam of any kind but rather as an educational exhibit about a momentous event in recent history. The project has survived the lingering antipathy for the depository in Dallas as well as the gimlet-eyed scrutiny of certain special interests, each committed to preserving the past but each with its own reason for doing so. For one group, the past has a commercial value; for another, it has a scholarly value. The third believes the past should be preserved in order to serve the curiosity of the broadest public possible. Amazingly, given modern urban politics, each of those interests was able to get what it wanted. Not so amazingly, I suppose, getting what they wanted made the cost increase.
Since 1963 the depository changed hands several times until Dallas County bought it in 1977. The county hired James Hendricks, who had renovated the old Cumberland Hill School for the headquarters of Bill Clements’ Sedco, still one of the most admired restorations in Texas. Today the interior of the depository holds a courtroom on the first floor and offices on the second through fifth floors. The effect is one of open spaces, sandblasted wood, and polished brick, the