Graffiti isn't visible anymore inside the John F. Kennedy Memorial in downtown Dallas. It has been crudely covered with white paint.
When a mentally ill man with a can of spray paint vandalized the memorial last spring, he did more damage than ever. But the incident also helped focus attention on the monument's already deteriorating condition and helped generate support to restore it.
Early next year, 30 years after the memorial was built, a $70,000 cleanup is scheduled that many say is long overdue. The project will be paid for by the city of Dallas and Dallas County.
Besides the graffiti, the memorial's concrete walls have been stained from exposure, and small pieces have chipped off.
"You cannot let this memorial fall into disrepair," said Andy Stern, chairman of the Dallas County Historical Foundation, which is coordinating the work. "It's too important to Dallas and to this country and to the world."
The boxlike memorial, 200 yards from where President John F. Kennedy was slain Nov. 22, 1963, is a major landmark today, but it was almost never built. Officials and residents wrestled with how--and whether--to recognize the assassination.
Some people, including the Dallas mayor at the time, opposed a memorial because they didn't want to be reminded of the event that made Dallas infamous. The Kennedy Memorial wasn't completed until seven years after his death.
After the memorial was built, a debate ensued about the design by New York architect Philip Johnson. Even today, some people call the monument sterile and uninviting. It consists of four 30-foot-high concrete walls, elevated slightly off the ground with narrow openings on the north and south ends. Inside, the only feature is an 8-by-8-foot slab of gray granite with the inscription "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" in gold.
"This doesn't inspire me," said Lester Trapp, a recent visitor from Claremont, Minn. "Most monuments capture some of the essential contributions or ideals of a person. This is just concrete."
By contrast, the memorial deeply moves Jeff West, executive director of the nearby Sixth Floor Museum, which is operated by the Dallas County Historical Foundation. He said many people share his emotion once he explains the 50-by-50-foot monument.
"I think the design is kind of fantastic if you know what it means," West said. "I can go in there and make you get chill bumps. . . . It evokes the charisma of Kennedy, the youth of Kennedy, the spirituality."
Johnson once said the cenotaph, or empty tomb, was intended to be "a place of quiet refuge, an enclosed place of thought and contemplation."
"Utter simplicity," he said, "was the guiding idea."
In a recent telephone interview, Johnson said he was proud of the memorial.
"I don't think it's sterile, of course," he said. "I love it. The idea of going into an empty room with nothing to help you, except to think about the slain president, I think that's a very moving image."
Johnson, 93, said he's disappointed that the Kennedy Memorial hasn't been maintained better.
"I regret that it looks shabby," he said. "When you build something, you don't think about it decaying. I thought city pride would have kept it maintained."
The restoration is scheduled to begin in January and be completed by Presidents Day in February. Workers on scaffolding will clean each square inch. Afterward, a graffiti-resistant sealant will be applied, and regular maintenance will be done, West said.
The Kennedy Memorial was built with $200,000 in private funds on land donated by the county. More than 50,000 people from around the country donated money, including a 5-year-old girl who gave four pennies. An elderly couple donated $30 they had saved for Christmas.
It was dedicated on June 24, 1970.
Construction began in 1969. Over the years, the Kennedy Memorial has been more than a place to honor the 35th president. It has become a rallying point for political demonstrations.
Protesters have spoken out about the Persian Gulf War, peace in the Middle East, immigration policies and the death penalty.
Nonpolitical events also have been held. In 1995, hundreds gathered with candles when singer Selena was killed. Several times, vigils have been conducted for the homeless pets euthanized each year.
People who assemble might overlook a quiet tribute to JFK. About 50 feet from both entrances, granite markers are set in the sidewalk with identical inscriptions.
"The joy and excitement of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life belonged to all men," the markers read. "[This] is not a memorial to the pain and sorrow of his death, but stands as a permanent tribute to the joy and excitement of one man's life.
"John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life."