Sour Grapes or Strange Fruit: The Dakota Accused of Racial Discrimination

The residence known for its rich and famous tenants is accused of the unthinkable.

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Alphonse Fletcher Jr. accuses the Dakota of racial discrimination.

African-American resident and former co-op board chair of the Dakota, Alphonse Fletcher Jr., has filed a lawsuit accusing the Dakota co-op board of discrimination because they failed to allow him to buy an adjacent apartment in the building to accommodate his family. Fletcher says it would have been an all-cash transaction for $5.7 million, so there was no reason to block the sale.

He cites a pattern of discrimination at the Dakota, saying that Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas were denied an apartment because co-op board members joked that Banderas would be buying drugs directly out of the first-floor apartment location. Isn't Griffith the recovering addict? He also said that Roberta Flack was denied a new bathtub and that others have been turned away for reasons dealing with race. The lawsuit's explosive allegations include claims that board members made ethnic slurs against prospective residents, including describing one couple as part of the "Jewish mafia."

The building has long been famous for its exclusivity and privacy, housing celebrities like Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein and Judy Garland. Icon and Dakota tenant John Lennon was famously murdered in front of the building on Dec. 8, 1980. What's interesting about this suit is that Fletcher has purchased units in the building before and is a former chair of the co-op board.

Did we mention that Fletcher's mother sits on the current board? Fletcher has also accused the board of self-dealing, allowing another owner to package her unit with the unit he wanted to buy after he was denied the purchase. The board says the claims are outrageous and they rejected his application based on financial information that he provided.

If he had the cash to buy it, then what's the problem? Having said that, we think this sounds like a case of sour grapes. It was all good -- so much so that he was even board president from 2007 to 2009 -- until he couldn't get what he wanted. Now they're racists. It's OK to reject others, just not Fletcher Jr.? Take a cue from the late John Lennon and let it be.

Read more at the New York Times.

Since this article was published, the editors have added a clarification.