Berlin-WallThis Sunday marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall so we decided it was a fitting time to mention the fragment of the wall which accompanies the bronze statue of former US President Ronald Reagan in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair.

Reagan2The remnant of the wall, recorded as taken from the “east side”, can be seen through a window in a bronze plaque which commemorates the role President Reagan played in the coming down of the wall.

The plaque also features quotes from President Reagan – including the famous line from his 1987 Brandenburg Gate speech, “Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” – and other figures including former UK PM Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev as well as information about the wall itself.

In a dedication to the president, it further reads: “Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States of America, was a principled fighter for freedom. With a clear vision and will, he gave hope to the oppressed and shamed the oppressors. His contribution to world history in the 20th century, culminated in his determined intervention to end the Cold War. President Reagan has left a lasting legacy as a campaigner for global peace.”

The memorial was unveiled on 4th July, 2011, outside the US Embassy by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, to mark the 100th birthday of the former president. Among those present at the unveiling of the statue were then Foreign Minister William Hague and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There are also larger sections of the wall outside the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth and in the National Army Museum in Chelsea (closed for redevelopment until 2016).

For more on London’s monuments, check out Andrew Kershman’s aptly named London’s Monuments.

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Grosvenor-Square-1

The largest square in Mayfair, Grosvenor Square was laid out in the 1720s on the orders of  Sir Richard Grosvenor of Cheshire.

Sir Richard owned the Grosvenor Estate, a considerable tract of land in London’s west which includes in its northern part the land upon which the square was created (the estate is now owned by Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster).

It’s proximity to Hyde Park and Whitehall quickly made it, like many other historic squares, a fashionable place for politicians to live – among those who lived here in the late 18th century were three prime ministers.

The oval-shaped gardens in the middle of the square – which was only opened to the public in 1948 – were once home to a statue of King George I but this was removed at some point. Originally thought to have been laid out by gardener John Alston, they took on their current form in 1948 when they were redesigned by architect BWL Gallannaugh (interestingly, Grosvenor Square is also said to have been the last part of London to exchange gas lighting for electric lighting).

There’s almost no residential buildings on the square these days but among the most prominent buildings (in fact it dominates the west end of the square) is the US Embassy. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the building was completed in 1960 with US President John F Kennedy one of the first visitors.

Grosvenor-Square-2The hulking embassy is only one of the many American connections to the square, connections which at one point led to it being known as “Little America”. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the US armed forces in World War II, based his headquarters at number 20 in 1944, while number nine – one of the few residences to survive – was home to John Adams, first American ambassador to the Court of St James and later the country’s second president.

The American theme, which has meant the square has been the focus of demonstrations such as those protesting the Vietnam War as well as outpourings of support such as in the wake of the September 11 attacks, is also evident in the statutory in the square’s gardens with grand, full size statues of  President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a bronze by William Reid Dick unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt on the third anniversary of the president’s death – 12th April, 1948 – it is pictured above), President Eisenhower (a bronze by Robert Dean dating from 1989), and President Ronald Reagan (unveiled on 4th July, 2011, pictured right).

On the eastern side of the garden square is the September 11 Memorial Garden opened in 2003 while on the south side is the Monument to the Eagle Squadrons, the three RAF squadrons in World War II mostly composed of American volunteers before the US entered the war. There’s also a set of memorial “Diplomatic Gates”, installed in 1984 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris and honour US and UK politician who have worked in the service of peace.

Other notable buildings include number one, the Canadian High Commission (previously the US embassy); and number four, one of  square’s oldest houses. Now demolished, number 44 was the home of the Earl of Harrowby and where the British Cabinet were dining when word arrived of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

London, along with the rest of the world, will this week pause to remember 11th September, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people died after planes were flown into New York’s World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon (a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania). In preparation for the 10th anniversary, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled a 10 metre high sculptural memorial, After 9/11, in Battersea Park which controversially uses steel girders from the towers in its design. But London already has a memorial to the events of 11th September. This is located in Grosvenor Square Garden, opposite the US Embassy. Opened on 11th September, 2003, the memorial features a pavilion which has three bronze plaques listing the name of UK citizens, UK Overseas Territories and people of dual nationality who lost their lives. The site was chosen partly on the basis that it was at the foot of the nearby Roosevelt Memorial that people laid flowers and lit candles in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Plants at the memorial include white Bianca Roses which were among the flowers in the Queen’s bouquet laid at Westminster Abbey in a service held on 29th November, 2001, and were the roses that family members laid on the innocent victims memorial outside the abbey . In addition, more than 3,000 of the rose petals cascaded from the Whispering Gallery to the altar of St Paul’s Cathedral on the  first anniversary service.

A new statue of former US President Ronald Reagan was unveiled in Grosvenor Square near the US embassy on Monday, 4th July. The 10 foot tall bronze statue of the president, who died in 2004, was unveiled at a private ceremony by the Foreign Secretary William Hague – former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were also among the more than 2,000 people who attended along with current US ambassador Louis Susman (a frail Margaret Thatcher was reportedly too frail to attend). Commissioned by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the statue is the work of sculptor Chas Fagan. Its unveiling is one of a series of events marking the centenary of the birth of the former actor turned politician.

Pall Mall and St James Street in the West End were opened to two-way traffic this week for the first time in 50 years. The changeover came into effect last Sunday morning. The roads were made one-way in 1963 under a scheme to deal with increasing traffic in the area. But it has been reopened in the first stage of a £14 million overhaul of traffic around Piccadilly Circus – home to world-famous neon billboards and the Eros Statue. The area is visited by 200,000 every day.

Time to get your togs on. Scores of swimmers will be taking the plunge at the Hampstead Heath Lido tomorrow and Saturday to raise funds for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, Bear Necessities. A 4,000 metre swim, the City Dip, will be swum by teams and individuals with every swimmer receiving a commemorative certificate and medal. The current Lord Mayor of London is Michael Bear. To sign up or for more information, see  www.lordmayorsappeal.org.uk/dip

On Now: Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century – Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, MunkácsiThis new exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts at Burlington House in Piccadilly, organised to mark the Hungarian Presidency of the EU, is dedicated to the birth of modern photography and features the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. It comprises more than 200 photographs, dating from 1914 to 1989, which usually form part of the collection of the Hungarian National Museum of Photography as well as the National Museum in Budapest and other public and private collections in both Hungary and the UK. Runs until 2nd October. For more information, see www.royalacademy.org.ukPICTURE: Laszlo Fejes, Wedding, Budapest, 1965, Copyright Hungarian Museum of Photography.

On Now: Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture. London’s first ever celebration of contemporary culture from across the Arab world will feature more than 100 artists involved in 70 events at some 30 venues over the weeks until 24th July. The program includes visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture, lectures and discussions with many events boasting free admission. Highlights include A Girl in her Room, an exhibition of photo works by highly acclaimed Lebanese/American artist, Rania Matar, at the Mosaic Rooms, one of London’s leading centres for Arab contemporary arts (runs until 23rd July), Shopopolis, a series of collaborations with shoppers at Westfield Shopping Centre (runs until 24th July) and this weekend’s Interference, a series of free films, talks and workshops at the ICA curated by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. For full details of all events, see www.london.gov.uk/shubbak.

Still the address to have in London, the origins of the name Mayfair are just as they appear – this area to the west of the City was named for the annual May Fair which was held at what is now the trendy (and picturesque) cafe precinct of Shepherd Market during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The two week long annual fair was established by King James II as a cattle market on what was then known as Brookfield Market in the 1680s. Attracting other pleasure-related activities, it soon became known for its licentiousness and, having survived Queen Anne’s attempts to have it banned, was eventually stopped in the mid-1700s. Edward Shepherd, who today gives his name to the area on which Brookfield Market once stood, was an architect and developer who subsequently redeveloped the site.

These days Mayfair is generally taken to encompass an area bordered by Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Piccadilly to the south and Regent Street to the east. The area’s development really took off in the century following the mid 1600s (landowners included the Grosvenor family – whose name is reflected in landmarks like London’s third largest square Grosvenor Square and Grosvenor Chapel (pictured) – as well as the Berkeleys and Burlingtons) and it became a favored residential location among the wealthy – indeed, it was this very gentrification which indirectly put an end to the fair.

Today, as well as being known for high end residential real estate, it’s one of London’s most expensive shopping precincts. Landmark buildings in the area today include the hulking bulk of the US Embassy at the western end of Grosvenor Square, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, the Handel House Museum (located in what was the home of composer George Frideric Handel), shopping arcades such as the Burlington and Royal Arcades, and various luxury hotels like Claridge’s and The Dorchester in Park Lane.