Then and Now: Fort Worth hotel where president spent his last night remembers JFK

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by JIM DOUGLAS

WFAA

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 18 at 5:43 PM

FORT WORTH -- Step off the elevator on the eighth floor of Fort Worth's downtown Hilton, and you're in JFK's foot steps.

Straight ahead, you see a large photo of him leaving the hotel for Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and to the left, the place where the First Couple spent their last night.

"We think it was right here on the eighth floor on the east side of the hotel," said Dave Fulton, the hotel's general manager. "At the time, it was Suite 850."

The suite itself disappeared in renovations years ago, leaving standard room 808. There's no indication that this is where the Kennedy's room was. The occupant during a recent visit had hung a "do not disturb" sign on the door handle.

Back in 1963, what is now the upscale Hilton was still The Hotel Texas, which opened in 1921.

Just before the president's visit, a news camera shooting silent film recorded employees spiffing up Suite 850, which was plain, and not even the hotel's best. Vice President Johnson had that one.

Some historians think the Secret Service had safety concerns about the best room. Still, from room 808, you can look out the window where President Kennedy stood and saw an enthusiastic crowd gathered in cold rain to see him.

"So he comes out and goes into the park and did his presentation," Fulton said, leading out the front doors facing south. On the walls are plaques showing that the property is recognized  for state and national historic significance.

Hilton is the first owner to truly use the Kennedy connection as a point of distinction for the hotel. Walls at both ends of the mezzanine attract out-of-town visitors to enlarged photos of the Kennedys at the hotel on that fateful morning with everyone smiling.

The hotel has undergone so many changes, even the manager isn't sure exactly where it all happened. But every new staff member learns the history, and goes through a pinning ceremony for a lapel pin.

"This is a moment in time. A place in history," Fulton reads.

It's a place that finally got a JFK tribute last year. A larger-than-life bronze of President Kennedy speaking in roughly the same spot where he stood. Passersby are drawn to a massive photo of the crowd facing him.  

Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum will forever be the focus, but many will want to spend the fiftieth anniversary in the last place President Kennedy slept, and reflect on the promise of the following morning.

The Downtown Fort Worth Hilton expects reservations for the anniversary to build throughout the year.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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