Most celebrated apartment block in Manhattan accused of racism

A beastly brouhaha has erupted at the Dakota Building, arguably the snootiest and most self-regarding apartment building in all of Manhattan, after one of its long-time residents filed a lawsuit this week accusing its managing board of straying beyond the bounds of familiar snobbery into outright racial discrimination.

The building where John Lennon lived before being assassinated outside its grand front entrance in 1980 was quivering yesterday, or should have been, from the shock of the legal assault, set in motion by Alphonse Fletcher, a prominent Wall Street financier and an African American, who has lived there for almost 20 years.

Angry that he was refused permission to buy an apartment adjacent to the one he already owns to accommodate his growing family, Mr Fletcher has let loose against the building, which, like many others in Manhattan, operates as a co-operative. The suit accuses the co-op board, of which he recently served for several years as president, of systematically discriminating against residents and would-be residents who happen not to be white.

Like countless other co-op buildings with fancy addresses on Central Park, the Dakota sees fit to exercise all kinds of apparent legal discrimination when vetting prospective buyers of its apartments. To gain approval, would-be residents must demonstrate stellar levels of financial security. Other conditions vary but range from the kinds of pets you have to the amount of money you are giving to institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Generally, a co-op board can say no thank you without explanation. Over the years, the Dakota has famously rejected the likes of Cher and Billy Joel. Also turned away were Melanie Griffith and her partner Antonio Banderas. But allegations that racism is involved come rarely and can cause deep damage.

A series of purported slurs are given billing in the suit. The plaintiff alleges, for example, that the singer Roberta Flack, who lives in the Dakota, suffered serial humiliations at the hands of the board when she sought to replace a broken bathtub. Mr Fletcher says he heard members titter each time a new obstacle was put in her way. She was also obliged to use the service lift after walking her dog, while white owners of dogs were directed to the main lifts, he alleges.

The suit recalls co-op members speaking of one applicant couple belonging to the "Jewish Mafia".

On another occasion, somebody suggested that a Hispanic man was seeking to buy a ground-floor apartment so he could more easily buy drugs on the street. The applicant, who was rejected, was married to a "prominent financially well-qualified white woman," the suit says, dangling the suggestion that the two in question were Banderas and Griffiths.

"Although such conduct by a co-op board on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at the beginning of the 21st century may seem surprising, this behaviour was consistent with the defendants' extensive pattern of hostility toward non-white residents of the building," the lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, suggests.

Mr Fletcher, who is seeking $15m in damages, also accuses the board of spreading smears about his financial condition. For its part, the board appears to be standing by its original assessment that its accuser, in spite of his running his own long-established hedge fund, did not have the cash to be buying another apartment.

"Mr Fletcher's application to purchase an additional apartment in the Dakota was rejected based on financial materials he provided," it insisted in a statement. "Any accusations of racial discrimination are untrue and outrageous... The Dakota board is confident in the soundness of its decision."

Residents and applicants


Among its many famous residents, the one most closely associated with the Dakota is John Lennon, who was just opposite the building when he was shot dead in 1980. The composer Leonard Bernstein, who wrote West Side Story, was another musical resident; 16 years after his death, his home went on sale in 2006 for $25.5m.

The horror actor Boris Karloff's ghost is said to haunt the building he occupied in the 1950s – not the only spooky association: Rosemary's Baby was filmed there.

Yet another musician, Roberta Flack, has been dragged into the racism allegations that have brought attention back to the co-op, with the litigant Alphonse Fletcher claiming that whereas white residents are allowed to take their dogs in the lift, she had no such privileges.


Not every celebrity who wants to live at the Dakota is lucky enough to get a place. Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas were summarily turned down when they tried to buy a place, as were Gene Simmons and Billy Joel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor