Maybe it takes an old-timer to know that President John F. Kennedy’s assassin lived in the 4900 block of Magazine Street in September 1963.
Although architect Brooks Graham had heard rumors to that effect, he wasn’t entirely sure about it when he asked the building's newest owners, Katie Winters and Tom Shlosman.
“I tried to be really low-key about it, so I said something like, ‘I think maybe Lee Harvey Oswald might have lived in this building, ’” said Graham, whom the couple hired to handle the conversion of the double shotgun house into Shlosman Law Office after buying it in 2017.
Winters was surprised.
“I had never heard anything about that until Brooks mentioned it,” said Winters, a 40-something title attorney, owner of Oak and Ale, and mother of two with one on the way. “It’s fascinating!”
Graham was right, of course. The building’s street address (4905-07-11 Magazine St.) appears in many articles and maps of where Oswald lived in New Orleans.
Oswald was born on Alvar Street in the Upper 9th Ward and lived in nine or more houses across the city. Magazine Street was the last. After moving there in May 1963, he was joined by his pregnant wife Marina and little daughter June a week later.
The family struggled to pay rent and moved out without notice in late September 1963, headed to Dallas.
The Advocate’s Ian McNulty wrote extensively about the house (in The Times-Picayune) in 2013 during media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination. There’s still more information about the Oswald family’s residency in the building in Warren Commission affidavits and in a WDSU interview, available on youtube, with Jessie Garner, another tenant of the building who helped manage it for owner Isabel Dawson Gregory.
The house disguised its notoriety for decades (1981 until 2017) when it was owned by W. Earl Windom. Over those 30-plus years, the house fell into disrepair: Its white paint peeled, the three windows in the gable were boarded over and vegetation grew wild in the yard.
In later years, the building was inhabited by an elderly renter who held frequent “garage sales” in the front yard.
“We had been trying to buy the property for years, but the owner just didn't want to sell,” said Winters. “It wasn’t until he died that his family came to us to find out if we were still interested. My husband and I bought 4905 and my father (title attorney Mike Winters) bought the fourplex on the corner.”
It’s evident from the 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which show the footprint of structures on a lot, that the house is at least 123 years old. A structure having the outline of a double with a shallow side bay on the right is present on the 1896 maps. The footprint seems to have changed very little, with the exception of a small linear addition on the right, adjacent to and beyond the bay.
When Oswald lived there, his rent was just $65 a month for the use of two furnished rooms and a bathroom. The unit was numbered 4905 and was situated at the rear of unit 4903, on the right hand (or downriver) side of the house. Oswald would have entered through the side door, then ascended a few steps to a screened porch.
“One day, when I was standing in that back room where Oswald lived, it just came over me that I was walking on the same floor boards that Oswald would have walked,” said Graham “I started going on to the contractors who were with me about how historic it was, and about the role that Oswald played in history ... they looked at me like I’m a lunatic.”
Graham designed law offices for Shlosman that respect the original floor plan to a significant degree. On the left (upriver) side of the building are private offices for attorneys; on the right, separated by a wide hallway carved out of the right side, are spaces for the clerical support group.
Today, the building is almost unrecognizable compared to its pre-renovation appearance, thanks to a fresh coat of warm, off-white paint, new shingles in the gable, the restoration of the stained-glass gable windows and pale olive shutters on the facade.
“I don’t know if it is ironic or poetic justice or what,” mused Winters, “But I love the fact that Tom, a plaintiff and criminal defense attorney, is practicing law in the house where Oswald lived right before he left town the last time.”
Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. He was 24 years old. Two days later, on Nov. 24, he was gunned down on live television by Jack Ruby.