In a way that would be unthinkable now for one of the most famous men in the world, Lennon and Ono rented a two-room apartment on Bank Street in the West Village when they settled here, and bought bicycles to get around town. As a student at Sarah Lawrence and an avant-garde artist in New York in the 1950s and ’60s, Ono was intimately familiar with the city. “She made me walk around the streets and parks and squares and examine every nook and cranny,” Lennon said. “In fact you could say I fell in love with New York on a street corner.” His proximity to the docks and the meatpacking district reminded Lennon of his hometown port city of Liverpool, as did the characteristic gruffness of New Yorkers. “I like New Yorkers because they have no time for the niceties of life,” he said. “They’re like me in this. They’re naturally aggressive, they don’t believe in wasting time.” When the Nixon administration used a minor drug conviction in England as a pretext for kicking the politically outspoken Lennon out of the country, the city rallied behind him. Lennon and Ono broke up for a time in his "Lost Weekend" after which he mostly lived in Los Angeles. In 1975, after the couple had reunited, the government dropped its case and Lennon got his green card (also on display in the exhibition). And after three miscarriages, Ono gave birth to their son, Sean, that year. “I feel higher than the Empire State Building,” Lennon declared. By this time, the family was living in the Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West, a step up from Bank Street but hardly as posh then as it would eventually become. As the city struggled to recover from its economic crisis, Lennon established a domestic life. He stopped making albums, turned over his business affairs to Ono, and famously baked bread and cared for Sean. By the time the couple began working on the album “Double Fantasy” in 1980, life in New York seemed to be on firmer – and safer – footing, though it was still raw enough that in 1979 Lennon and Ono donated $1,000 to purchase bullet-proof vests for the city’s police force. Lennon was eager to return to public life, and he was still singing the praises of his adopted city. “I can go right out this door now and go in a restaurant,” he told a BBC reporter on Dec. 6, 1980, in an interview to promote the album’s release. “You want to know how great that is?” Two days later, Lennon was shot to death outside the Dakota. He was 40 years old. He had just returned home from a recording session with Ono and, rather than have their car pull directly into the Dakota’s driveway, he got out at the curb so that he could greet the fans waiting outside. It was an emotionally generous gesture, maybe even a naïve one: trusting the city too much, underestimating its dangers. Mick Jagger, a far more jaded New York transplant, couldn’t believe his friend used to take cabs, which is “probably to be avoided if you’ve got more than $10,” as he said years later.
John Lennon atop of The Dakota - 1975