Yoko Ono’s beautiful/sad gift to New York City

Abrams has just published a gorgeous little photo book, “Strawberry Fields,” devoted to one of the most moving and useful memorials that I know of — the 5.3 acres of Central Park that was restored and landscaped in memory of John Lennon.

The musician loved New York City intensely and made his home in one of the city’s most historic apartment buildings — the Dakota on Central Park West.

Like most other Manhattanites, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono made good use of Central Park for strolling, people watching and as a way of escaping the high energy streets surrounding the urban oasis.

Lennon’s death outside the Dakota might have led some widows to turn their back on such a tragic scene, but Ono remained in the building and starting in 1981 she dedicated herself to spearheading the creation of Strawberry Fields in his honor.

As Sara Cedar Miller points out in the book, Ono managed to invite contributions in her husband’s name from 50 different countries, all of which are now symbolically represented at the site.

I have visited Strawberry Fields many times and while there is always a melancholy undertone to being there — how I wish Lennon had lived to celebrate his 70th birthday this year, all the while creating more of the music I’ve loved most of my life — it is the most vibrant memorial I’ve ever seen. Full of life, busy with visitors from all over the world, and an important part of a great park.

Ono has played a crucial role in the history of Central Park since Strawberry Fields was dedicated on Oct. 9, 1985. The project gave a huge boost to the recently formed Central Park Conservancy, dedicated to maintaining Frederick Law Olmsted’s magnificent creation.

The president of the Conservancy, Douglas Blonsky, writes in the foreword, “When (Strawberry Fields) opened to the public that day, the Conservancy was still a fledgling organization, having been established only five years earlier as a new kind of partnership whose goal was to assist the City of New York with private funding and professional management toward the restoration and maintenance of the Park’s severely deteriorated landscapes and structures.”

The early 1980s were a carryover from the bad old bankrupt days of the 1970s, a time when the rundown condition of the park and the rampant nighttime crime there became story points in countless movies, ranging from the vigilante thriller “Death Wish” (1974) to the acerbic Neil Simon comedy “The Out of Towners” (1970).

Strawberry Fields was “the Park’s first major landscape to be planned, designed, and constructed with Conservancy funding, and it was sponsored by the Conservancy’s first million dollar donor, Yoko Ono,” Blonsky writes.

The Abrams book contains a history of the park and the Conservancy — and the rise of the apartment houses that now surround Central Park — but most of the book is dedicated to the wonderful pictures of Sara Cedar Miller who has been the official Conservancy photographer since the 1980s.