Sixth Floor Museum plans to extend reach

Wednesday, October 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JFK assassination museum will expand to seventh floor for presidency exhibits

By Selwyn Crawford / The Dallas Morning News

When The Sixth Floor Museum opened in February 1989, officials didn't know whether it would be in business for sixth months or six years.

Now, more than 11 years later, construction is scheduled to begin this week to expand the museum to the seventh – and top – floor of the former Texas School Book Depository.

The $1.4 million project will double the facility's exhibition space from 9,000 to 18,000 square feet.

"What we have at the museum is a capacity problem," said Jeff West, executive director of The Sixth Floor. "In the summer months especially, it's crowded and we have long lines. And we don't know how many people, because of that, just walk away."

The first part of the expansion calls for connecting the two floors by extending the shaft of the special elevator that takes about 420,000 visitors annually directly to The Sixth Floor. A stairwell will also be added to connect the floors.

Once that project is complete, contractors will begin preparing the seventh floor, now used as a massive storage room for Dallas County, for exhibit space. Officials hope to open the new floor next summer.

Mr. West said the seventh floor, instead of focusing on the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, would showcase the American presidency itself. For example, exhibits might include a presentation on first ladies or the White House, he said.

The hope is that the West End museum will capture more first-time and repeat local visitors, Mr. West said. He compared The Sixth Floor to the Statue of Liberty in that many New Yorkers view the landmark as solely a tourist attraction.

"This will give us more capacity and give Dallas [residents] a reason to return to the museum," Mr. West said. "What I'll find is that I'll be at a cocktail party talking to somebody and they've never been, but their kids have been twice.

"Our audience is large and it comes from outside of the state largely, but we love everybody."

To help raise the museum's profile in North Texas, an advertising firm, Publicis-Mid America, volunteered to produce a free marketing campaign.

"It was something I wanted to do," said Seth Werner, president and chief creative officer for Publicis. "Speaking for myself, it's kind of history that we lived through. We were there when it happened, or we remember where we were when it did happen.

"The reason I approached them ... [free] is because we don't need a big, flashy ad campaign for The Sixth Floor Museum. We'll just remind you that it's there, that it's history and not really comment on it."

Mr. Werner said he has proposed putting up some billboards, running print and television ads and placing airport dioramas to help spread the word around North Texas.

Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson said he once thought the county would need the seventh floor for its own purposes. But as the need for more space dwindled, he said, it seems only fitting to allow The Sixth Floor to use the area.

"Attendance continues to grow almost every year in a pretty steady pattern, and now there are times when capacity is restrained by the space limitations on the sixth floor," Mr. Jackson said. "So it really didn't make any sense for us to be reserving that empty space.

"We [Dallas County commissioners] are the trustees of this site. We've been very pleased with the way The Sixth Floor exhibit was installed and has been operated these 11 years."

Domestic visitors seem to like it, too.

Orien Denham of Alexandria, La., praised the museum Tuesday after taking his first tour.

"I'd definitely come back and see it again," said Mr. Denham, who was mixing some pleasure with business. "I think it [the expansion] would be great."