Thursday, September 21, 2017

A City Mourns: President John F. Kennedy’s Memorial

Senator John F. Kennedy and Police Commissioner John Ferraro during the Democratic National Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, 1960
Photo courtesy of Ferraro collection, Los Angeles City Archive
   
On November 22, 1963, the Los Angeles City Council was in the middle of its regular Friday meeting when it was announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Officials scrambled for news updates; by day’s end, Kennedy’s death was confirmed and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, had been sworn in. Johnson immediately called for a national day of mourning on Monday, November 25.

The news of Kennedy’s assassination spread shock and sadness across the country and around the world. Three cities held special ceremonies to mourn him, in consideration of their special connections to his life and work. Washington, DC, was the focus of the national observance. Boston was Kennedy’s home city and the place his political career had begun. And Los Angeles was where, at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, held in the Sports Arena and Memorial Coliseum, he became his party’s candidate for president.



Democratic National Convention, 1960
Los Angeles Public Library

As the Herald-Examiner reported on July 14, 1960: "Sen. John F. Kennedy acknowledges the cheers of the crowd as he appeared at Sports Arena after he won the Democratic Presidential nomination. 'We shall win!' he pledged in his brief remarks, pending formal acceptance in the Coliseum tomorrow night."

Kennedy visited Los Angeles several times as president. The local Democratic Party base was a reliable source of fundraising, and the president’s sister Eleanor and her husband, the actor Peter Lawford, lived in a Santa Monica beachfront home.

President Kennedy thanks Police Chief William H. Parker, 1966
Los Angeles Public Library

One of Chief Parker's prized possessions was this 1966 autographed photo, hanging on a wall in his office, that shows President Kennedy thanking Parker for the police department's security work during Kennedy's visits to L.A.

The events of November 1963 live on in anyone who still remembers them, but as time passes, it will be up to the artifacts and written accounts to tell the story of how Los Angeles responded when America lost its leader.

Los Angeles City Hall, November 22, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives
In Los Angeles, as City Archivist Michael Holland has written, "public observances began Sunday afternoon at the Sports Arena, where Kennedy had been nominated as his party's candidate three summers earlier. The Los Angeles Times reported the attendance surpassing 7,000 Angelenos. That evening, by order of the mayor, Los Angeles City Hall displaying crosses made out of open window blinds lighted windows on all four sides of City Hall and remained lighted all night long. The windows used to be blacked out in similar fashion for Christmas and Easter."

Los Angeles's mourning observance on the steps of City Hall, Nov. 25, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives
The city’s day of mourning, timed with the nation's on Monday, November 25, was spearheaded by the office of Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, who had been active in Kennedy's campaign for Democratic nominee and who arranged for the City Hall steps on Spring Street to serve as a grandstand. The master of ceremonies was actor Charlton Heston. Although the event was recorded by TV station KTLA and radio station KHJ, neither of the broadcasts are known to still exist.

Los Angeles's Day of Mourning on the steps of City Hall, Nov. 25, 1963
Courtesy Los Angeles City Archives

People gathered on the City Hall steps facing Spring Street at noon to grieve. Seated left to right in the photograph above are Joseph Quinn (assistant to Mayor Sam Yorty), Councilman Tom Bradley, Councilman John P. Cassidy, Councilman John S. Gibson, Councilman John C. Holland, Councilman Billy Mills, and Councilman Gilbert Lindsay. Lindsay was the first African American on the City Council and an ardent supporter of civil rights. He had hoped Kennedy would push social change forward.

Memorial, 1965
Los Angeles Public Library, Valley News Collection; photo: Peter Banks
In June 1965, a bronze plaque was placed in the approximate location where John Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination for president in the Coliseum in 1960. Gathered around the memorial plaque (left to right) were Sen. Pierre Salinger, County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, A. E. England, chairman of the Coliseum Commission, and Mrs. Harriet Dexter, president of Gold Star Mothers. In Los Angeles, as City Archivist Michael Holland has written, "public observances began Sunday afternoon at the Sports Arena, where Kennedy had been nominated as his party's candidate three summers earlier. The Los Angeles Times reported the attendance surpassing 7,000 Angelenos. That evening, by order of the mayor, lighted windows on all four sides of City Hall formed a cross and remained lighted all night long." 

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History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles

Los Angeles's response to President Kennedy's assassination is represented in History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles from August 4, 2017 to October 1, 2017. 

Contributing institution of this story to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles
The Los Angeles City Archive is the official repository for the records of Los Angeles city government. Documents include council files, ordinances, minutes, and budgets. There are also permanent collections of photographs, annual reports, council papers, and ephemeral. The archive is open to the public by appointment during normal office hours.
 


 





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