History of John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

A Tribute to an Extraordinary Man

The John F. Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, TX

Dallas’ John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza was dedicated June 24, 1970. In the years since, it has become an integral part of the city’s urban landscape and cultural heritage. It is located one block east of Dealey Plaza, between Main and Commerce streets, on land donated by Dallas County.  

Designed By Philip Johnson

Renowned American architect Philip Johnson’s design is a cenotaph, or “open tomb,” that symbolizes the freedom of John F. Kennedy’s spirit. The memorial, a square, roofless room, 30 feet high and 50 by 50 feet wide, sits in the middle of the block with narrow openings facing north and south. The walls consist of 72 white pre-cast concrete columns, most of which seem to float with no visible support 29 inches above the ground.

Kennedy Memorial - night
The John F. Kennedy Memorial at night

Eight columns extend to the ground, acting as legs that seem to hold up the monument. Each column ends in a light fixture. At night, the lights create the illusion that the light itself supports the structure. These vertical elements, rigorously separated from each other and individually poured, seem held together by an unseen, invisible force. The architect once called it a “magnetic force” and suggested a connection to the charisma of the living John F. Kennedy.

The corners and “doors” of this roofless room are decorated with rows of concrete circles, or medallions, each identical and perfectly aligned. These decorations introduce a circular shape into the square architecture of the Kennedy Memorial.

Kennedy Memorial - sky
Inside the John F. Kennedy Memorial

Visitors enter the room to face a low-hewn granite square in which the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy is carved. The letters are painted gold to capture the light from the white floating column walls and the pale concrete floor. These words are the only verbal message in the empty room.

While aesthetically simple, the intent of the Kennedy Memorial was often misunderstood. A thoughtful piece of art, originally it had no interpretive features. The space was intended for reflection and remembrance. Yet, as more visitors came to Kennedy Memorial Plaza and to nearby Dealey Plaza, it became clear that an exhibit was needed to explore the topic of the Kennedy assassination. Upon that realization, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza had its beginnings.

Kennedy Memorial - side view
Side view of The John F. Kennedy Memorial

The Museum coordinates annual cleaning and refurbishment of the memorial in cooperation with Phoenix I Restoration and Construction, Ltd. View The John F. Kennedy Memorial at 40 Program on YouTube.