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Grosvenor House Hotel:
A while ago I visited JW Steakhouse, one of the restaurants at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Loving the food, I was intrigued by the placement of an American style steakhouse in one of Park Lane’s leading London Hotels. A few weeks ago, I learnt more. Invited to tour the hotel and learn more about the history, I was soon enlightened.
While the Hotel is a very British institution, the original design of the hotel was intended specifically to cater to the American market. Replacing the original detatched house with a building that would provide apartments and hotel rooms suitable for American visitors to London, the architect L. Rome Guthrie worked with Edcaster Ltd who had acquired the site in the 1920s. The construction used many contemporary American methods, with over 4,000 tons of steelwork in each of the two blocks and the interiors included running iced water to each room and en-suite bathrooms throughout. Incredibly, the entire building was started in 1927 and completed just two years later. The austere and, at the time, tall building was controversial
An insult to the good taste and aesthetic judgement of the citizens of the metropolis
As one letter to The Times claimed.
An external colonnade and stone attic pavilions were designed by Lutyens to refine the American styling of the crowning top storey.
From the start, there was a focus on accommodating American customers with one of the first American restaurants in London, the ‘Tudor restaurant’ serving American cuisine and there was even a sales office on Fifth Avenue. Visitors included Eisenhower, Sammy David Jr, Ella Fitzgerald and Jacqueline Onassis.
The Great Room was originally designed as an Ice Rink and in 1933 the seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, learnt to skate at the hotel. But, as competition in London intensified, the rink was closed and converted to provide the largest hotel banqueting space in London.
The Hotel became the hub for London society, hosting the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, where debutantes were presented to the Queen each year until 1958. And, in 1934 A.O. Edwards, chairman of Grosvenor House (Park Lane) Ltd, purchased a de Haviland Comet, which he christened Grosvenor House, and entered in the MacRobertson Air Race to Australia. They won the race and celebrated with a dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The plane is still on show in the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in Bedfordshire.
Grosvenor House also played a part in the Second World War when it was used partly as an Officer’s Mess and partly to provide a vast air raid patrol dormitory.
Walking around the rooms there’s a great sense of history. Yet, the Hotel has been beautifully updated, fusing traditional and contemporary styling to provide today’s guests with light, comfortable surroundings. The rebrand, for the 80th anniversary of the Hotel in 2009, aimed to restore the hotel to an environment of simple elegance, while retaining many of the original features.
Stepping back through time as I walked around the Hotel, it was easy to imagine the debutantes stepping down the stairs into the Great Room. It’s an elegant and iconic building and I am grateful to have learnt more about its fascinating history.