Grosvenor Square Will Be A Barometer Of The World’s Wealth And Power Again
“You can sell Grosvenor Square sitting in a jacuzzi in Honolulu.”
According to specialist Mayfair broker Peter Wetherell, Grosvenor Square has historically been one of the most sought-after addresses in the world, an epicentre of wealth and power.
And in 2018 the square will undergo its biggest transformation in more than 80 years, as three of its four sides see major developments commenced or completed and the public elements begin to be revamped.
The changes will mean the square, the second-largest in London after Lincoln’s Inn Fields and bigger than Trafalgar Square, once again highlights where the world’s capital and power resides as it reverts to being a primarily residential area after a long period dominated by political buildings.
On the north side, the former U.S. Navy HQ at 20 Grosvenor Square has been converted to 37 luxury apartments operated by Four Seasons by developer Finchatton on behalf of the owner, reported to be the Abu Dhabi Investment Council. Half of the apartments have been sold after being launched at the end of 2017 for prices ranging from £17.5M to £38M. The scheme is due to be completed in the fourth quarter.
On the east side of the square, Indian developer Lodha is building 48 luxury apartments on the site of the former Canadian High Commission. In October it secured a £517M development loan to fund the construction. The project is scheduled for completion at the end of 2019.
And Qatari Diar will begin the conversion of the former U.S. Embassy at 30 Grosvenor Square into a 500K SF, five-star hotel run by Rosewood after the Embassy moves to its new home in Nine Elms in January. The facade of the modernist building built in 1960 on the west side of the square will be retained, including the gilded aluminium eagle with a 35-foot wingspan.
Grosvenor Square has always played an outsize role in U.K. and world history. Built in 1710 by Sir Richard Grosvenor, the fourth member of the family from which the current Duke of Westminster descends, it was for two centuries home to much of the British aristocracy that dominated the U.K. government, as well as celebrities like playwright Oscar Wilde.
It was also the site of the first American diplomatic presence in London, and was the home of the U.S.' second president, John Adams, from 1785-1788 when he moved to the U.K. to reestablish relations with the former colonial masters of the U.S.
The U.S. presence grew until it came to dominate the square from the second world war onwards. Dwight Eisenhower established 20 Grosvenor Square as the HQ of the U.S. military in Europe, and in 1960 the U.S. Navy moved in.
The Embassy was the scene of major protests against the Vietnam War in 1968, and has been a reason why Grosvenor Square fell out of favour somewhat as a high-end residential destination.
“There are no grey areas — you either think it is either the most secure place in the world or it's number two or three on the terrorist hit list so you don’t want to live there,” Wetherell said.
In spite of this and the dominance of embassies and two major hotels on the square, it did retain a draw as a residential address, and the people living there mirrored the ebb and flow of global capital and political events.
In the 1960s many of the residents were American and Greek, including Christina Onassis.
“Before the Arab states nationalised oil production the Greeks were the ones who made money on it because they shipped it around the world,” Wetherell said. Actor Michael Caine was also a resident at this time.
The rise in oil-based wealth in the Middle East saw an influx of Arab owners to the square, and Wetherell said many of the wealthy Indian families expelled from Uganda in 1972 by Idi Amin also settled in the square.
This is echoed today in the fact that the three new developments, whose sites were bought for more than £1.1B combined and are likely to cost the same again to build, are all being undertaken by investors from those countries.
But the general rise of emerging market wealth is shown by the fact that at 20 Grosvenor Square, development manager Finchatton said it had received enquiries from more than 20 countries.
“When I started in the 1970s, Grosvenor Square was always the No. 1 address,” Wetherell said. “At that time Eaton Square was a bit run down, but then Grosvenor Square didn’t have the stock and there were the security concerns around the Embassy, so Eaton Square became more desirable.”
But in general Grosvenor Square always leads the way. Prices in Mayfair are on average around £2.5K/SF, Wetherell said, whereas Grosvenor Square averages £5K/SF and some of the top properties command prices of £7K/SF or more.
“It’s an exciting time for the square,” he said. “In five years time when Qatari Diar completes the hotel you will be able to sit behind the eagle and look out as you sip your dry martini.”
The general public might also get to enjoy a bit more of the square as well over the coming years. Grosvenor, the property company of the Duke of Westminster which owns much of Mayfair, is taking over the management of the garden and public realm in the square, and wants to make it more accessible to the general public.
It ran a poll late last year and has asked for ideas from the public on how to make the square more welcoming — in spite of the fact that it is only a five-minute walk from Oxford Street and the garden open to the public, a majority of those polled thought it was for the rich only.
Ideas put forward include a children’s play area and community garden and more street food festivals but above all the retention of as much peaceful green space as possible.
“The polling shows that Grosvenor Square has a low profile,” Grosvenor Britain & Ireland Executive Director Will Bax said. “We agree that a more welcoming space would better reflect London’s character. We want the square to be a haven where locals and visitors can enjoy the best of the city, whilst helping make Mayfair more appealing.”
“They used to say the world was ruled from Grosvenor Square,” Wetherell said. That will not happen again, but the Grosvenor Square will certainly regain its status among the global elite.