Grosvenor Square (pronounced "Grove-ner Square") is a large garden square in the exclusive Mayfair district of London, England. It is the centrepiece of the Mayfair property of the Dukes of Westminster, and takes its name from their surname, "Grosvenor".
Sir Richard Grosvenor, obtained a licence to develop Grosvenor Square and the surrounding streets in 1710, and development is believed to have commenced in around 1721. Grosvenor Square was one of the three or four most fashionable residential addresses in London from its construction until the Second World War, with numerous leading members of the aristocracy in residence.
The early houses were generally of five or seven bays, with basement, three main stories and an attic. Some attempt was made to produce impressive groupings of houses, and Colen Campbell produced a design for a palatial east side to the square featuring thirty Corinthian columns but this was not carried out and in the end most of the houses were built to individual designs. There were mews behind all four sides.
Many of the houses were rebuilt later in the 18th century or during the 19th century, generally acquiring an extra storey when this happened. Number 26 was rebuilt in 1773-74 for the 11th Earl of Derby by Robert Adam, and is regarded as one of the architect's finest works and as a seminal example of how grandeur of effect and sophisticated planning might be achieved on a confined site. It was demolished and rebuilt again in the 1860s.
The central garden, which was originally reserved for the use of the occupants of the houses as was standard in a London square, is now a public park managed by The Royal Parks. Nearly all of the houses were demolished during the 20th century and replaced with blocks of flats in a neo-Georgian style, hotels and embassies. Access to the western side of the square is severely restricted by the very obvious security measures around the U.S. Embassy.
The western side of Grosvenor Square is now occupied by the American Embassy, a large and architecturally significant modern design by Eero Saarinen, completed in 1960. It is, however, a controversial insertion into a mainly Georgian and neo-Georgian district of London. Since 2001, a series of anti-terrorist devices have been installed around the embassy, and the road running along the front of the embassy has been closed completely to traffic. Residents living close to the embassy say the British government and police are endangering their lives by failing to adequately protect the embassy area from terrorist attacks. In 2006, the Grosvenor Square Safety Group residents association took out advertisements in The Washington Post and The Times, accusing the Metropolitan Police and local governments of a "moral failure" for not closing two roads adjacent to the embassy.
Grosvenor Square has been the traditional home of the official American presence in London since President John Adams established the first American mission to the Court of St. James's in 1785. During the Second World War, Dwight D. Eisenhower established a military headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square, and during this time the square was nicknamed "Eisenhower Platz". The United States Navy continues to use this same building as its headquarters for Europe and West Africa.
Four of the Bentley Boys - Woolf Barnato, Tim Birkin, Glen Kidston and Bernard Rubin - took adjacent flats in the fasionable south-east corner of the square, where their day-long parties became something of social legend. So common was the sight of their large, green sports cars parked ad hoc outside their flats, that for many years London cab drivers referred to the spot as "Bentley Corner".
Marietta Tree recounts: [After leaving the Embassy]
"We walked around the neighborhood a little bit and where his house had been where he had lived with his family at the end of the War, there was now an apartment house and he said that makes me feel so old. Indeed, the whole walk made him feel very not so much nostalgic but so much older. As we were walking along the street he said do not walk quite so fast and do hold your head up Marietta. I was burrowing ahead trying to get to the park as quickly as possible and then the next thing I knew, I turned around and I saw he'd gone white, gray really, and he fell and his hand brushed me as he fell and he hit the pavement with the most terrible crack and I thought he'd fractured his skull."