Beautiful music by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Life at the Dakota provides a good history of the apartment building the Dakota that stands in Gothic glory across the street from West side Central Park on 72nd street.
I love reading the histories of these famous buildings and this book did not disappoint.
We see how the builder Edward C. Clark had vision when everyone else saw the area north of 53rd Street as a barren wilderness (hence the name Dakota, after the Dakota Territories) because there was nothing up there but country.
Clark met up with a poor Jewish immigrant who fixed sewing machines and developed a better one, but no one took seriously. Except Clark. As a Lawyer, Clark patented it and made a serious advertisement campaign, changing the image of sewing machines as a poor immigrant laborers work tool, to a machine every lady must have in her home.
Thus the inventor Isaac Singer and Edward Clark made millions off of the Singer Sewing machine.
This happened when Clark was a younger man. He didn't begin to imagine the Dakota until he was in his seventies. However, the money he made off of Singer's sewing machine gave him the money to embark what what everyone else considered a crazy scheme to make an apartment building in no man's land.
This was during the 1880s. At that time New York was clearly divided between the American Aristocracy, the Waldorfs, the Astors, etc...and everyone else. They all lived below 53rd Street on the East Side. No one worth knowing lived anywhere else. Clark decided he was going to provide living space for the middle rich and the up and coming rich. Rich people who had not inherited their wealth but actually earned it. Shocking!
Stephen Birmingham gives lively descriptions of many of the better known occupants of the building, from the Steinways (of grand piano fame) to various actors and actresses such as Lauren Bacall, Music conductor Leonard Bernstein, all the way to the sixties and seventies when the first black woman moved in (Roberta Flack) and also the rebellious, peace activist turned hauteur-bourgeoisie ex-Beatle, John Lennon with Yoko Ono.
This book was published in 1979, shortly before Lennon's death so it doesn't include his murder right outside the Dakota Building, which sadly, is why most people not from New York City know about the building. It provides a unique insight as to how John Lennon had largely disappeared from sight in the 1970's and Birmingham clearly saw him as a has-been musician who could be heard from the other floors "playing lonely little melodies on his guitar in his living room on the seventh floor."
While this tells me the author belonged to an earlier generation who did not have much use for rock musicians, it also shows his lack of foresight. Around the time the book was published John Lennon had released a magnificent album with some of his most mature music to date. The songs revealed a man who had matured and mellowed and who knows what he had in store for us if his life had not been dreadfully cut short.
I suppose I'm showing my own bias there. Nevertheless, I recommend this book as a great addition to anyone's library of historical buildings.
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