Celebrity Investors: John Lennon & Yoko Ono

“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can,” John Lennon famously sang on the title track of 1971’s eponymous LP. Well, even idealists have to live in the real world, and the Ono-Lennons lived in various valuable properties including apartments in the Dakota building, a co-op located on Central Park West and West 72nd Street in the centre of Manhattan, which housed celebrities such as actor Lauren Bacall, 1970s soul singer Roberta Flack, and composer Leonard Bernstein. By the time of his untimely death in 1980 at the hands of a gunman on the pavement outside, the couple had acquired five apartments in the prestigious building.

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Yoko Ono took control of the couple’s business affairs while John Lennon became a house-husband – “I’d always felt guilty that I made money.”

Real Estate

New Yorker magazine architecture critic Paul Goldberger, a fellow resident who served on the Dakota’s co-op board, described “a little bit of resentment [building] up against Yoko … because she kept trying to buy more apartments.” But Yoko Ono’s property portfolio proved an astute investment. In 2008 she sold an apartment the Ono-Lennons had used as a storage unit for US$801,000 and today apartments inside the 1884 building are valued at up to US$11.3 million.

Property prices inevitably look cheap when you look at them retrospectively from some distance in the future!

Other properties that have been in the couple’s portfolio include waterfront properties in Virginia, the 10ha (25-acre) Isle of Dornish off the west coast of Ireland, 167ha (415 acres) of farmland and 84ha (210 acres) of working dairy farm in upstate New York and a mansion by the sea in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1983 Yoko Ono generously donated most of the above to a number of charities through the Spirit Foundation vehicle in memory of ‘war casualties of the world’.

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Yoko Ono invested successfully in real estate.

Yoko – Business Manager

John Lennon described how he and Yoko Ono traded roles in a 1980 interview with American magazine: “Yoko became the breadwinner, taking care of bankers and deals, and I became the housewife. It was like one of those reversal comedies. I’d say (jokingly), ‘Well, how was it at the office today, dear? Do you want a cocktail? I didn’t get your slippers, and your shirts aren’t back from the laundry.’ ”

In response to the interviewer’s question as to why she took over as business manager, Yoko replied: “There’s a song by John on the album [Double Fantasy] called ‘Clean-up Time’, and it really was that for us. Being connected to Apple and all the lawyers and managers who had a piece of us, we weren’t financially independent; we didn’t even know how much money we had. We still don’t! …People advised us to invest in stocks and oil but we didn’t believe in it. You have to invest in things you love, like cows, which are sacred animals in India. Buying houses was a practical decision…. Each house that we’ve bought was chosen because it was a landmark that needed restoring.”

Dairy Breeding

Yoko Ono took to the role like the banker’s daughter that she was. She methodically studied commercial law. She became versed in the art of deal making. She held meetings with lawyers and accountants. She directly supervised property purchases.

The couple entered the field of premium dairy livestock breeding when they purchased 122 cows (US$1.5 million) and 10 bulls (US$350,000) on a US$740,000 property, which included US$100,000 used equipment. Their total cash outlay on the US$2.7 million deal was only US$375,000 as they provided a “note” for the balance of the purchase price. This method of financing the purchase led to ongoing disputes with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who argued that the investment was not a genuine operation, being conducted for profit, but a tax shelter, asserting that the “note” was only a contingent liability.

Ono had selected the Holstein breed because they are high-milk producing livestock rather than beef cattle. Thus they would provide beneficial nutrition without needing to be slaughtered.

What they said when a syndicated New York News report announced that “John Lennon, the songwriter, and his wife, Yoko Ono, have sold one of their Holstein cows for the [then] world record price of [US]$265,000 on June 23 [1980] at the Syracuse NY State Fair” remains unknown. However, we do know what John Lennon’s reaction was when he read about the record-breaking sale in a newspaper: “Only Yoko could sell a cow for $250,000!”

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“Only Yoko could sell a cow for $250,000!” The Ono-Lennon’s diverse investment portfolio included breeding livestock, where Yoko set a world record for a Holstein dairy cow.

Hypocrite?

In the September 1980 American magazine interview John Lennon was asked how he felt about the political radicalism he embraced in the early 1970s. His reply is enlightening:

“That radicalism was phoney, really, because it was out of guilt. I’d always felt guilty that I made money, so I had to give it away or lose it. I don’t mean I was a hypocrite, when I believe, I believe right down to the roots. Being a chameleon, I became whomever I was with. When you stop and think, ‘What the hell was I doing fighting the American Government just because Jerry Rubin couldn’t get what he always wanted, a nice, cushy job?’”

So enjoy John Lennon’s songs like “Imagine”, but remember that there is nothing immoral about making astute investments, especially when those may increase the well-being of a community. That is why C2 Capital focusses our portfolios on much-needed housing and community facilities like child care and health centres such as Sunshine, Umbrella Health in Bentleigh East.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us.

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