Life at the Dakota

Life at the Dakota coverLife at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address
Stephen Birmingham
Open Road Media (December 1, 2015),  243 pages
originally published in 1979
Kindle edition $6.00, Amazon paperback $12.20
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $2.99

This book tells you more than you would ever want to know about a building.

The Dakota is well known as being the residence of a number of famous people. It’s probably best known as the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, sadly because it was there in 1980 that Lennon was killed. This book was originally published in 1979, so it refers to “the Lennons” (as Birmingham rather oddly calls the couple) in the present tense.

John and Yoko were, however, just two of many famous residents. Among the original tenants in the nineteenth century were the Steinway and Schirmer families, Gustav Schirmer being, of course, the founder the music publishing company that bears his name. Residents of the building included Boris Karloff, Jose Ferrer and his wife Rosemary Clooney, Gwen Verdon, Judy Garland, Betty Friedan, Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Rex Reed, Jack Palance, and playwright William Inge. Roberta Flack was the building’s first and, at the time the book was written, only black resident.

Life at the Dakota is not just about the people, although there are plenty of gossipy stories. It’s really a biography of the building. Birmingham describes the design, architecture, finances, electrical infrastructure, and plumbing of the building. It was interesting to read about how the building converted from rental apartments to a cooperative in 1960.

There are some fascinating passages in Life at the Dakota, but in the end the book is really too much of a good building.

3 Comments on “Life at the Dakota”

  1. Tahoe Mom says:

    Fascinating book. Bought it for a whole lot less that $6 for my Kindle. I agree it is a lot about a building but the people are very interesting.

  2. I just saw a story today about Lauren Bacall’s apartment going up for sale at 26million. 9 rooms (13-foot ceilings) and views of Central Park.

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