This photo of a 34 year-old John Lennon donning a New York City sleeveless shirt on a rooftop in New York has become one of his most iconic photos.
The photo was taken by Lennon’s photographer and friend Bob Gruen in the afternoon of August 29, 1974 at Lennon’s rented New York penthouse apartment.
The location of the apartment and roof where the photo was taken is 434 East 52nd Street New York, NY 1022. Here’s a Google Street View link…
“It was a beautiful, sunny day,” said May Pang, Lennon’s companion at the time. “John smoked his French Gauloises and drank lots of strong coffee.” Gruen asked Lennon to put on a T-shirt he’d bought on the sidewalk for $5—white with NEW YORK CITY in bold black type, the black sleeves cut off with a buck knife for a tougher effect. It seemed right: “John had been in the city awhile,” says Gruen. “He was becoming a New Yorker.” One of the shots captures Lennon pale and unsmiling, his arms folded across his stomach. “That was his street stance,” says Pang. “John was self-conscious about the cutoff sleeves, but I assured him it was fine.”
Bob Gruen, on the famous photo of John Lennon in the New York City shirt.
“I had given him that New York City shirt about a year earlier. And I used to wear them all the time. I was very proud of being from New York. And we were up on a rooftop taking pictures of his apartment. He had a penthouse apartment at the time. And we were taking pictures for his album cover (Walls & Bridges). And then he suggested we take some more pictures so we have a lot of publicity photos available. And I remembered I had given him that shirt. And I said, ‘Do you still have it? Because here’s the whole skyline of New York all around us.’ And he knew right where it was, went and got it and put it on. And he just was comfortable being a New Yorker. And I suggested it because I knew he was really happy in New York and he really kind of described New York as the center of the world and said ‘If I was living in the time of Rome, I would go to Rome. But I’m living in the time now, so I’ll be in New York.’
Here’s a picture of the actual shirt John work with the sleeves cut-off for the photo session. It was put on display by Yoko Ono for an Exhibition of John Lennon’s New York Years.
The photos Lennon wearing the New York City shirt would of course gain even meaning and notoriety upon his murder in 1980 in New York.