by ROY APPLETON / Dallas Morning News
Pat Hall wants to sell her house in north Oak Cliff.
The place at 1026 N. Beckley Ave. should attract some interest, as it has for half a century.
A guy named Lee Harvey Oswald lived there for a while in 1963. That is, until he was arrested and charged with killing President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit.
With the 50th anniversary of those events drawing near, Hall plans to list the property for sale June 1. No word yet on an asking price. But she has a minimum in mind.
“It’s not going to be too low,” she said during a recent tour of the house. “I’m selling history here.”
Her grandmother Gladys Johnson bought the house in 1943 and lived there with her husband for years, renting rooms to single men.
On Oct. 14, 1963, a man identifying himself as O.H. Lee took her only available room, paying $8 a week including refrigerator and living room privileges.
“She must have really liked him,” said Hall, for most renters didn’t have refrigerator access.
And Oswald apparently liked children, she said, recalling how he would play ball with her brothers in front of the house.
In testimony for the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy assassination, Johnson said the quiet and tidy tenant spent most weekends with his family in Irving. She said he would keep “a half gallon of sweet milk … and lunch meat” in the refrigerator and occasionally watch television with other renters in the living room.
She also told of learning on Nov. 22 that her Mr. Lee was really Lee Harvey Oswald after seeing his picture “flash on the television” and talking with police officers who swarmed his room after his arrest at the Texas Theatre in the fatal shooting of Tippit.
Oswald had returned to the house briefly after shooting Kennedy — hurriedly, the landlady later said — apparently to retrieve a pistol. Officers found an empty holster in his room, Johnson testified.
“She was ashamed and humiliated that this house was associated with him,” Hall said.
And so it has been ever since. The brown brick house became a place in history, a tie to that tragic day.
Her grandmother put up with an onslaught of reporters and other intruders for months after the assassination before “telling everybody to go away,” Hall said.
The Oswald yoke
Hall’s late mother, Fay Puckett, lived as well with the Oswald yoke, a past that continues to attract tour buses, history hounds and the unexpected — as in the Lee Harvey Oswald look-alike actor from Austin who showed up at the front door one day.
“It was kind of weird having that guy standing there,” Hall said. “It took me back.”
After her mother died, Hall, 61, opened the place to tours for several years, encouraging — with some success — donations toward its upkeep.
But she and her house aren’t getting younger. The structure needs repairs here and there. The public demands of history, she said, have been a burden, something she doesn’t want for her children.
‘Timing is perfect’
So the assassination’s 50th anniversary seemed like prime time to test the real estate market and perhaps make a move.
“The timing is perfect,” Hall said.
The listing will include nine bedrooms and four bathrooms counting the main house, its basement and a detached building — fewer sleeping areas than in rooming-house days.
The kitchen stove dates to Oswald days. The refrigerator that cooled his food and drink is gone, as is the communal telephone he would use. The compact bathroom he and others shared still has its white tile floor and built-in medicine cabinet.
The living room’s reupholstered couch, rocking chair, coffee table, book shelves and fireplace heater remain from the times Oswald sat there watching television.
Above a donation box near the front door, a sign still solicits support: Help Restore the Lee Harvey Oswald Room & Beckley Rooming House.
“This is it,” said Hall, chuckling as she walked into the Oswald quarters near the dining room, minus the French doors he used for privacy.
Her grandmother, she said, “didn’t want to make a big deal about this being his room.”
But Hall is restoring it for the sale. She has repaired walls and hopes to paint them the green of 1963. She plans to refinish the wooden floor, measuring 5½ feet by 14 feet, and return blinds to the four windows. Oswald’s metal twin bed is back in place. A drawered closet will be returned from storage.
Everything but Hall’s personal belongings will remain with the house, she said.
The property, the 2,078-square-foot house and rear building, is valued on the tax rolls at $65,830. No telling what offers the 78-year-old, red-roofed house with its window air-conditioning, trellised porch and often-told story will attract.
Whatever happens, the structures have some protection. The city’s Landmark Commission must approve any significant changes to their exterior because the property lies in the Lake Cliff Historic District. Presence in the district probably would prevent demolition.
Preservation Dallas may seek local, state or federal landmark status for the site, said David Preziosi, executive director. It also wants to record the Hall property inside and out, as well as other Oswald-related sites, he said.
“You need to tell the whole story of the assassination,” he said. “You can better understand the events of the day when you have the pieces documented.”
The big story about 1026 N. Beckley, Preziosi said, is more the possible change in ownership than any threat to the property.
“The sale is significant considering how long it’s been in her family,” he said. “We’re losing that [70-year] connection.”
Hall hopes a buyer will preserve the house, particularly the interior areas where Oswald spent time. “I’d like them to maintain it as it is so young people can come, history buffs can come and see what it was like to live in 1963.”
But first to find that buyer.
Real estate agent Vo Singhal will represent Hall. He will screen inquiries, he said, and try to protect Hall’s privacy.
“When this goes public, I don’t want to spend my time batting off lookie-looks,” Hall said.
Hall and Singhal would just as soon see a bidding war break out. And if she doesn’t get that bottom dollar?
“There’s a Plan B. Definitely.”