Few seemed to notice when an unassuming four-story townhouse on charming cobblestoned street in the bohemian heart New York’s West Village changed hands earlier this year at $8.8 million. Perhaps that almost no one noticed shouldn’t be so surprising given a nearly $9 million townhouse in lower Manhattan has become, well, commonplace. However, the townhouse in question, which dates to the early 1900s, isn’t just any ol’ $9 million townhouse, it’s an almost forgotten real estate touchtone for Beatles fans, the first New York City home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, John and Yoko packed their bags, left Tittenhurst Park, their historic estate near Ascot, and moved to New York City. (Lennon sold Tittenhurst Park in 1973 to his former bandmate Ringo Starr, who held on to it until the late 1980s, when it was sold to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former President of the UAE and former ruler of Abu Dhabi.)
After a stint at the posh St. Regis Hotel on the Upper East Side, and the release of his seminal solo album “Imagine,” the couple took up residence in a humble two-room walk-up apartment on Bank Street in the West Village. They rented the top-floor apartment, which had a winding staircase to a roof garden, from Lovin’ Spoonful drummer Joe Butler, who owned the building at the time.
During their time on Bank Street, they were in constant fear of being deported — the Immigration and Natural Service had ordered Lennon’s deportation based on alleged Communist ties — and sometimes used a neighbor’s telephone because they feared theirs was tapped.
They made a cozy home in the artist’s garret, where they were visited by a slew of high profile friends, including Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and Alan Ginsburg. Alas, their romance with the West Village came to an end in 1973, when they were robbed by a former tenant of the apartment. Stolen items included a color TV set, which Lennon allegedly begged the robber to leave behind, and an address book that was later returned.
The plain exterior of the Bank Street townhouse looks much as it did in the early 1970s, when Lennon and Ono shacked up in a rented apartment on the top floor.
A photo of the couple in the Bank Street apartment shows the color television that was stolen in a robbery, as well as the corkscrew staircase to the roof garden.
When the wildly creative and sometimes controversial couple left the Bank Street apartment, they moved uptown, to much grander circumstances at the Dakota, at the corner of West 72nd Street and Central Park West. They moved into apartment #72, a sprawling four-bedroom spread in the upper reaches of the storied apartment house (outlined above in red).
So the stories go, they initially rented the apartment from actor Robert Ryan, but soon purchased it, sometime after his 1973 death.
Not too long after they moved uptown, however, the couple separated. Ono stayed in residence at the Dakota while John, with the encouragement of his wife, took up with the couple’s personal assistant, May Pang, and moved to a rented triplex penthouse atop a dignfied pre-war building on East 52nd Street.
It was here on East 52nd Street, on the 29th of August 1974, that photographer Bob Gruen took the now iconic image of the then 33-year-old former Beatle in a sleeveless t-shirt, and it was here where the counter-culture icon adamantly claimed he saw a UFO hovering over the building next door.
A quick scan of the internet shows the unique penthouse where Lennon holed up during his so-called “Lost Weekend” changed hands last year, with little to no hubbub, for $4.5 million.
Ono and Lennon eventually reconciled — he called the 18-month separation his “Lost Weekend” — and they soon expanded their holdings at the Dakota. They acquired neighboring unit, #71 (outlined in green), as well as several others in the building. Ono still owns and occupies the seventh floor and still owns several other units in the building.
Mosaic in a public park
On the night of the 8th of December 1980, as Lennon and Ono returned home to the Dakota from a recording session at Record Planet, Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman in front of the building.
Just across from the Dakota, Strawberry Fields, a five-acre area of Central Park, is maintained as a memorial to Lennon. And each year, on the anniversary of his assassination, Ono lights a candle in one of the park-facing windows of the seventh floor apartment she once shared with Lennon.