John Lennon's New York Legacy
History is alive wherever you look in New York, from monuments and structures to crumbling cobblestones underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn; you can see the footsteps of time and imagine the past as you stand in the present. Some of our most revered and loved artists, writers and eccentrics have left their stamp on New York City’s cultural landscape just as strongly as the buildings and bridges. Today commemorates the anniversary of the untimely death of one of those artists who left his indelible mark on not only New York but also the world at large, John Lennon. Potentially the most iconic member of The Beatles next to Paul McCartney, Lennon attained worldwide celebrity for both his music and his role in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s as a peace activist alongside his wife, artist Yoko Ono.
Born and raised in England where The Beatles were formed, Lennon didn’t come to New York to live until the very early seventies but the time he spent here was noteworthy as it marked his emergence as a solo artist outside of The Beatles. The city provided a stage large enough for his activism, his sometimes controversial relationship with Ono and until his murder, a safe haven from the hordes of screaming fans. That overwhelming fan presence prompted his ironically meant but much maligned quote, “…We're more popular than Jesus now.” The reference was made in an interview to Maureen Cleve referring to Christianity at large as a social phenomena but was cause for large scale protests in the United States. The quote and it’s context are recounted in Cleve’s article, The John Lennon I knew, published October 5, 2005 in the Telegraph.
Lennon’s respite from both his fame and notoriety came sadly in the same place as his shocking murder at the Dakota apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The building itself stands out as a landmark in it’s own right, having been accepted into the National Register of Historic places in 1972. The Dakota was one of Manhattan’s first luxury apartment buildings and its significance was noted by newspapers of the day when it first opened in 1884. To view the Dakota on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd street is to be awed by its immense size and historical detailing reminiscent of a European town center. It is unmistakable as you walk past its broad, square shape built around a central courtyard that may be viewed only by peering through the main arched entrance. An air of privilege, exclusivity and stateliness surround this entrance where two doormen stand sentry before a wrought iron gate large enough to accommodate horse drawn carriages in the Dakota’s earlier days.
This high gabled and ornate structure provided seclusion for both Lennon and Ono when they lived here for many years until, on December 8, 1980, just hours after having given an interview inside the Dakota, Lennon was shot four times by Mark Chapman just outside the building’s entrance. Since his death, both Lennon’s musical and activist legacy have been memorialized across the street from the Dakota in one of Central Park’s most visited spots, Strawberry Fields. Accessible by the park entrance just off Central Park West at 72nd street, the memorial area was designated a quiet zone by the park board. Despite the zoning restriction, street musicians still come to play their music, strumming guitars and singing in view of the intricately inlaid mosaics forming the circular memorial that spells out the title of one of Lennon’s most famous songs, “Imagine”. A beautifully landscaped garden, benches and a hallowed atmosphere make Strawberry Fields a poignant meeting place not only for Lennon fans but also in more recent history for mourners after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Despite controversy, artistic and personal differences among The Beatles and the passage of time, Lennon’s legacy has eclipsed those things to stand out as a hopeful and optimistic figure for peace in New York and the world while the Dakota and Strawberry Fields stand out as New York City landmarks where both his life was snuffed out and his spirit lives on.
About the author
Jessica Horani has lived in NYC off and on for over ten years since first coming to Manhattan as a 21-year-old law student. After a slightly traumatic address mix up in Greenwich Village on her first night, she fell in love with the City over a slice of pizza and the sparkling January night air. The love affair never ended and after a period of working for the Public Defender's office in Miami, she has returned to live in Brooklyn and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. The roaring New York of her twenties remains a fond and sometimes bittersweet memory, like an old lover,but there is another New York; one of serene beauty, historical importance and vibrant diversity that she is discovering anew every day. She hopes to share her love for New York City, both new and old, and the personal journeys it can take you on with the visitors to NYCfoto.com.
Jessica Horani is an Editor-at-Large of NYCfoto.com