Grosvenor Square is the epicentre of Manhattan’s love of London. Here we explore the Americans who made Mayfair their home
Words Hardeep Sandher
Manhattan’s love of all things British can be observed in various ways: from food – crumpets and scones anyone? – to musical geniuses such as The Beatles.
It is little wonder then that a number of famous Americans have chosen to settle in Mayfair over the years as a way to better embrace the ‘Anglophile’ attitude that is already present in their hometown.
The American love affair with London property has a much longer standing and goes back hundreds of years.
Here, we uncover a handful of the famous American from years gone by that chose London’s luxury capital as their base, and how their properties have stood the test of time.
1780s and beyond: The presidential growth of an ‘American Mayfair’ square Grosvenor Square was originally developed by Sir Richard Grosvenor, an ancestor of the modern day Dukes of Westminster.
Today it forms one of the centrepieces of the Mayfair estate owned by the Grosvenor Estate. The square itself is most famous for being home to the American embassy until last year.
In addition to this, the square has been home to a number of prominent American political figures dating back as far as the 18th century.
In the late 1780s, 9 Grosvenor Square, situated at the north east corner of Grosvenor Square and the corner of Brook and Duke Streets, was home to John Adams.
At the time, Adams was the ambassador to the United Kingdom, but is, of course, better known as the second president of the United States from 1797.
His presence set the long-term tone for the square: the American embassy took up residence on the square in 1938 at 1 Grosvenor Square, before moving to the Eero Saarinen-designed building that most are familiar with today on the west side of the square in 1960.
During this time, the square was home to even more famous US figures, including General Dwight D Eisenhower, whose office was based a stone’s throw away from the embassy itself.
A host of ambassadors also took up residence in the square at the same time, including John G. Winant (ambassador from 1941-1946) who lived in an apartment above the embassy during World War II.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Walter Hines Page also took up residence at number 6 Grosvenor Square.
‘Little America’ as it had come to be known during World War II, has also seen a number of memorials and statues placed in the gardens over the past 80 years, cementing its status as the epicentre of American Mayfair.
Statues that remain in the square today include President Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as, more recently, the 40th president of the US, Ronald Reagan.
Of course, Americans’ presence in London stretches much further afield than just Mayfair.
In nearby Trafalgar Square, the US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was serving as a ‘mediator’ before the War of Independence, and he made himself at home at 36 Craven Street between 1757 and 1775.
Today, you can still visit his house, which has been meticulously preserved as Benjamin Franklin House, more than 150 years later.
1900s: Harry Gordon Selfridge
The lure of Selfridges department store on London’s Oxford Street has only grown since it opened more than 100 years ago.
Founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909, he had set himself a mission to “show Londoners how to shop”, having established himself as a retail expert by working at the Marshall Field department store in Chicago.
His vision for Selfridges in London resulted in him being described as a shopping magnate, and he brought forward concepts which seem second nature to many today; including the concept of ‘browsing’, as well as reportedly the phrase the “customer is always right”.
He was already approaching 50 when he retired in 1906 and moved to London, taking up residence at 9 Fitzmaurice Place. Originally built as a detached mansion called Lansdowne House in 1763, the residence had been home to no less than three prime ministers in the 18th century.
Selfridge himself spent eight years living in the Mayfair home, which has been described as an architectural gem. It is a place where he lavishly entertained his guests for a number of years, with singers including the ‘Dolly Sisters’ from Hungary regular performers.
1960s: Jimi Hendrix
There are few places in London, indeed the world, that offer an insight into how a musical icon lived. But nestled in a Georgian townhouse on Mayfair’s Brook Street lies the third floor flat of American rock star Jimi Hendrix.
In fact, the home signifies a lot more than just Hendrix’s talent: the townhouse was also home to German/ English Baroque composer, George Frideric Handel some 200 years earlier.
Unsurprisingly, given the property’s history, it has been turned into the Handel & Hendrix museum with the apartment where Hendrix resided between 1968 and 1969 a major draw: especially as it has been colourfully re-created to look exactly as it did when he lived there.
Much of it was done with insight from Hendrix’s former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, who spent the summer living in the flat and went to stores such as John Lewis to buy curtains and carpets.
According to the Handel House Trust, which runs the museum: “For Hendrix, Brook Street was the doorstep to the London music scene of the late 1960s.
His flat was a short stroll from legendary venues like the Marquee, the Speakeasy and The Scotch of St James, and he would spend many evenings wandering from club to club looking for a chance to play.”
And it was perhaps his stint in Brook Street that helped him establish his reputation as a spectacular live performer: just nine months after he had arrived in London he was already a European star.