Saturday was the 70th anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, born and raised in Liverpool, but a New Yorker by choice for the last nine years of his life. His tragic death on December 8, 1980 in front of his home led to outpourings of sorrow from around the world. Mayor Koch led a memorial gathering to honor his memory at the Bandshell in Central Park on Sunday, December 14 attended by an estimated 100,000 people. Recordings of Beatles' music were played for the crowd, but no speeches were made.
On December 18, 1980, a resolution to honor Lennon was introduced in New York's City Council by the Councilmember-at-Large from Manhattan. It was co-sponsored by 30 members from all five boroughs, a majority of the Council. Here is the text of the resolution:
Res. No. 1309
Resolution in Memory of the Late John Lennon.
By Council Member Stern, also Council Members Greitzer, Messinger, Michels, Friedlander, Sadowsky, Berman, Codd, Crispino, Dryfoos, Eisland, Foster, Horwitz, Katz, Katzman, Kaufman, LaPorte, Leffler, Manton, Olmedo, Orlow, Pinkett, Povman, Rodriquez, Ryan, Samuel, Silverman, Spigner, Steingut, Ward and Williams --
Whereas, The Council has learned with deep sorrow of the death on December 8, of John Lennon, musician and lyricist, and
Whereas, Born to a working-class family in Liverpool, England, on October 9, 1940, he grew up in modest circumstances and without formal musical training, and
Whereas, in co-operation with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, he founded the Beatles, a group that earned a world-wide reputation through the strength of its compositions, the significance of its lyrics, the style and force of its performance, and
Whereas, Since 1969, he has lived in the city of New York, waging an important struggle with the aid of Congressman Edward I. Koch and others to be admitted to the United States as a permanent resident, and
Whereas, He and the Beatles, through such songs as "Give Peace a Chance" lent strength to the international effort to bring an end to the war in Vietnam, and
Whereas, The music of the Beatles has provided enjoyment to a generation of people around the world, combining high art with popular culture, and
Whereas, Last Monday, he was tragically murdered as he entered his home at One West 72nd Street in the Borough of Manhattan in the City of New York, and
Whereas, Millions of people, of all nations, of all walks of life, have joined in respect for his memory and in protest at his senseless death, now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York does hereby tender this expression of its sorrow and joins with all others in mourning his passing, and be it further
Resolved, that copies of this resolution be sent to his widow, Yoko Ono Lennon, and his sons, Julian and Sean.
Under the rules of the Council, in order to be adopted on first reading, a resolution required unanimous consent. This resolution was objected to by Councilman Angelo Arculeo of Brooklyn, a Republican who was minority leader of the Council. In his remarks, he said that Lennon was a drug user, that his example had led other people to use drugs, and that he was not an appropriate person for the City Council to honor. Arculeo added that he didn't "recall these kinds of tributes being extended to Bing Crosby, who really was an American legend." Consequently, the resolution was tabled.
If the Council wishes to do so, it can correct this 30-year-old injustice by adopting the resolution now.
The municipal legislature did, however, honor John Lennon in a more important way. On March 26, 1981, it adopted a bill which named an area in Central Park as Strawberry Fields, a reference to the Beatles' 1967 song, "Strawberry Fields Forever." The bill was signed into law by Mayor Edward I. Koch on April 16, becoming Local Law No. 34 of 1981. Here it is:
THE CITY OF NEW YORK
FOR THE YEAR 1981
Introduced by Council Members Stern, Messinger and Wallace; also Council Members Greitzer, Alter, Dryfoos, Foster, Friedlander, Gerges, Katzman, Michels, Povman, Ryan, Silverman, Steingut, Horwitz and Eisland --
A LOCAL LAW
To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to a park name, Strawberry Fields, Central Park, Borough of Manhattan.
Be it enacted by the Council as follows:
Section 1. Section B4-50.0 of title B of chapter four of the administrative code of the city of New York is hereby amended by adding thereto a new designation to read as follows:
§ B4-50.0. Manhattan: change park name. -- The following park area is hereby designated as hereinafter indicated.
New Name: Strawberry Fields
Present Name: None
Limits: The tear-shaped area, bounded on the south by Olmsted-Vaux Way, on the east by West (Winter) Drive, and on the west by the exit road from West (Winter) Drive to 72nd Street and Central Park West.
§2. This local law shall take effect immediately.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, OFFICE OF THE CITY CLERK, S.S.:
I hereby certify that the foregoing is a true copy of a local law of The City of New York, passed by the Council on March 26, 1981, and approved by the Mayor on April 16, 1981.
DAVID N. DINKINS, City Clerk, Clerk of the Council.
After the passage of the bill, Yoko Ono Lennon wrote to the Parks Department, proposing that the area known as Strawberry Fields, which is about 5.3 acres in size, be freshly landscaped, with plantings from all over the world and works of art. She offered to pay for all the work done, and contribute to a fund whose interest would help pay the salary of a gardener to maintain the area.
It took four years to secure the necessary approvals, design and build Strawberry Fields. The story will be told by Sara Cedar Miller, historian and photographer for the Central Park Conservancy, in a book, Strawberry Fields: Central Park's Memorial to John Lennon, to be published by Abrams in June 2011.
One point, however, should be made here. Yoko Ono did not contribute money to Central Park on condition that the area now called Strawberry Fields be so named in honor of her husband. We proposed the resolution and the name change without any contact with her, and without any plan for the improvement of the area. She called Mayor Koch on her own to make the offer, and the mayor referred her call to then-Commissioner Gordon Davis and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, co-founder of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980 and the deus ex machina of the restoration of Central Park.
The name change was the city's spontaneous honor to a worldwide figure who chose to make his home here. The beautification and redevelopment of the area came subsequently, as Yoko Ono's generous gift to the people of the City of New York, who will enjoy Strawberry Fields for generations to come.
Click here and scroll down to see a photo from the dedication of Strawberry Fields on October 9th, 1985, the 45th anniversary of John Lennon's birth and his son Sean's 10th birthday. Pictured from left to right are Mayor Koch, Sean Lennon, Henry Stern, Yoko Ono, and then-Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein.