History of The Texas School Book Depository Building

A Landmark Of American History

1898: The Southern Rock Island Plow Company built a 5-story building at the northwest corner of Houston and Elm streets in Dallas.

1901: The building burned down after being struck by lightning, and a new 7-story structure was constructed on its original foundation.

1937: The building was renamed the Perfection-Aire Building for the new air-conditioning business that leased it.

1941-1961: The building became the southwest distribution center for Chicago-based grocery wholesale company John Sexton & Co.

Dealey Plaza 1963

1963: The Texas School Book Depository company, a school textbook distribution firm, leased the building with regional textbook publishing firms also officing in the warehouse.

1963: Within minutes of the assassination of President Kennedy, the Texas School Book Depository building became the primary crime scene for the shooting after evidence of a sniper was found on the sixth floor. A Depository employee, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested for the murder of a Dallas police officer within 80 minutes of the assassination and later charged with the assassination of the president.

Empty 6th Floor
Empty Sixth Floor

Within hours the building was the focus of shock, grief and outrage. Thousands of visitors to Dealey Plaza came to view flowers left in honor of the fallen president and to photograph or film the Texas School Book Depository building, where a rifle and shells had been found on the sixth floor.

1970s: The Texas School Book Depository company moved out of the building. Although briefly owned by a Nashville music promoter who lacked sufficient funds to create a for-profit museum about the assassination, there was no subsequent tenant, and the building remained vacant for several years. A movement in the Dallas community to tear down the structure gained momentum until the Dallas City Council temporarily froze demolition permits.

1977-1981: Dallas County acquired the building and undertook a major restoration and renovation project to create office space on the first five floors. The exterior of the building was restored to its 1901 appearance.

1981-1986: The Dallas County Administration Building was dedicated on March 29, 1981. A Commissioners Courtroom, the seat of Dallas County government, was opened as well as office space on the second floor. County offices on the third, fourth, and fifth floor followed during Phase Two of the renovation, completed in 1986. During this time, the top two floors, including the infamous sixth floor, remained empty.

The Sixth Floor Museum Opens

Construction of the exterior elevator shaft, 1988
Construction of the exterior elevator shaft, 1988

1989: After a long decade of controversial development and community soul-searching, on Presidents Day (February 20, 1989), The Sixth Floor Exhibit opened as a response to the many visitors who come to Dealey Plaza to learn more about the assassination. The historical exhibition on the sixth floor highlights the impact of Kennedy’s death on the nation and the world. Two key evidentiary areas on the sixth floor were restored to their 1963 appearance.

 

Dallas Times Herald 1963 Program
Dallas Times Herald 1963 Program

2002: The Museum opened the Seventh Floor Gallery. This flexible space now provides an additional 5,500 square feet for innovative exhibitions, special events and public programming. The Seventh Floor Gallery has showcased historic photographs, artwork, presidential campaign commercials, home movies, and unique artifacts through a series of traveling and in-house exhibitions.

 

Present: Every year, some 350,000 people continue to visit the former Texas School Book Depository building – home to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – to remember and reflect on the events of November 1963.

For more information on the history of the Texas School Book Depository building and the development of The Sixth Floor Museum, see the book, Assassination and Commemoration: JFK, Dallas, and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013).