Grosvenor Square (pronounced “Grove-ner Square”) is a garden square in the exclusive London district of Mayfair.
This large patch of Central London green has been associated with the official presence of the United States of America in the United Kingdom since 1785, when President John Adams established the first American mission to the Court of St James’s here.
Today the western end of Grosvenor Square is home to US Embassy. The embassy’s building is the work of famous architect, Eero Saarinen.
Although it is much celebrated for its modern design, the structure receives its fair share of criticism too.
It is considered by many to be an unwelcome insertion into square of mostly Georgian townhouses. However, by 2016 or 2017, the Americans will move into a new embassy south of the River Thames in Wandsworth with Saarinen’s controversial work potentially becoming a new luxury hotel.
In addition to the embassy, this square has played a significant role in the history of American involvement in Britain and Europe. 20 Grosvenor Square served as General Dwight D Eisenhower’s military headquarters during World War Two, garnering Grosvenor Square the nickname, “Eisenhower Platz”. Today, this same address is home the United States Navy’s headquarters for Europe and West Africa. Statues of President Franklin D Roosevelt (sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick) and of General Eisenhower (sculpted by Robert Lee Dean) stand in the square, further securing Grosvenor Square as the traditional and spiritual home of the American government in the United Kingdom.
Obviously, the history of Grosvenor Square dates beyond the US setting up shop here. It is generally accepted as the centrepiece of the Mayfair property of the Dukes of Westminster and takes its name from their surname, Grosvenor. The square also is regarded as one of the most significant squares in all of London. The square’s esteemed status has been with since its creation, when it was described as “the very focus of feudal grandeur, fashion, taste and hospitality.”
The concept behind the square as we know it today dates to 1710 when Sir Richard Grosvenor obtained a license to develop it and the surrounding streets. Originally, the square’s central garden was reserved for the residents of Grosvenor Square, a practice that was common at the time and still practiced in many residential areas of London. Now the area is accessible to everyone and maintained by The Royal Parks. Almost all of the original houses have been demolished and replaced with neo-Georgian style structures.
The former American embassy of 1938–1960 is now owned by the Canadian government and is part of the Canadian High Commission in London. A number of other embassies, government offices are located on the square and nearby. The five-star Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel London calls this historic and attractive London square home as well.
The nearest underground station to Grosvenor Square is Bond Street Tube Station which is about six minutes to the north east. A number of restaurants, cafés and shops are nearby, catering all tastes and budgets. Those arriving on flights to London who are interested in American or British history, architecture and London life, this celebrated square is a must-see!
Flickr photo credit:
C G P Gray