Sharing the Dakota With John Lennon

John Lennon
Long before its history was marked by the sound of bullets, thousands of fragrant flowers and crowds grievously singing “Imagine," the Dakota was just another historic Manhattan co-op where among its famous inhabitants lived a musician named John Lennon.

The Dakota, on Central Park West and 72nd Street, where John Lennon lived from 1973 and where he was killed 30 years ago.

Before he was gunned down in front of the building 30 years ago Wednesday, he was the seventh-floor resident who brought sushi to the building's October potluck. He was known as a protective father and an enterprising real estate collector, irking a few neighbors by buying up five apartments in the building.

One of the many quirks and privileges of living in Manhattan is finding neighbors who are famous poets, celebrated scientists and aging jazz musicians. It was no different for residents at the Dakota, who grew used to seeing the former Beatle pass through the building's entrance in his fur coat. What made the Dakota different from other buildings, besides its distinctive gothic design, was that so many residents were also celebrities that it afforded Mr. Lennon a certain degree of privacy.

“This building is chockablock full of famous people," said Roberta Flack, who lives in the Dakota next door to Yoko Ono. “Most artists like myself tend to keep to themselves."

Mr. Lennon's and Ms. Ono's life in the Dakota began in 1973, when they were looking to move from their loft on Bank Street. Bob Gruen, who photographed Mr. Lennon when he lived in New York City, said the couple wanted a home with better security.

He said they looked at homes in Greenwich, Conn., and on Long Island before buying the apartment at the Dakota from the actor Robert Ryan, making it past the building's notoriously picky board.

While their early days in the Dakota were rocky and Mr. Lennon briefly left his wife for May Pang, Mr. Gruen said that Mr. Lennon returned by late 1974 and the couple settled into the throes of nesting. Ms. Flack recalled hearing them rehearsing music. Their son, Sean, arrived in 1975.

Like many new homeowners, Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono renovated their kitchen. Mr. Lennon wanted it to resemble the open spaces many artists had in their lofts downtown. Their home “wasn't particularly stylish," recalled Stephen Birmingham, author of “Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address," which was first published in 1979. But Ms. Flack, who agreed to be interviewed with Ms. Ono's consent, said the apartment was always uncluttered and tasteful.

The Lennons socialized with neighbors who also had children. Sean was friends with the children of Warner LeRoy, who owned Tavern on the Green. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic at The New Yorker, who lived in the Dakota, was invited to a Christmas dinner at the LeRoys' apartment in the late 1970s and recalled the Lennons being there. He said that the dinner was “warm and very low key," and that Mr. Lennon chatted with Mr. Goldberger's future mother-in-law about the music industry.

Most neighbors remember him being preoccupied with raising his son. Mr. Birmingham said that when he visited, Mr. Lennon had wrapped packing twine around the staircase to protect Sean. Ms. Flack recalls Mr. Lennon taking Sean out for walks in the park with his bicycle.

“Sean loved his dad," said Ms. Flack, pouring every inflection into the word “loved." “There was a lot of holding hands and looking up, and a lot of holding hands and looking down."

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