diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 29, 2004

Famous places down the street where I work
The InterContinental hotel (1 Hamilton Place)

Most of the lower end of Piccadilly is given over to the hotel trade, which is not surprising given that Park Lane is just around the corner. Right where the two roads meet stands the InterContinental Hotel, a particularly ugly 70s block which would look more at home in some eastern European capital. Tim Moore in Do Not Pass Go describes the hotel as "constructed in apparent homage to an irregular stack of fruit boxes behind a supermarket checkout" and it's hard to disagree. The hotel's not famous for anything at all, but the buildings it replaced most certainly are.

145 Piccadilly was bought by Albert and Liz Windsor in 1927. You probably know them better as King George VI and the Queen Mother, but at the time they were merely second in line to the throne and completely ignorant of their later destiny. Baby Elizabeth had been born the previous year just up the road in Mayfair, at 17 Bruton Street off Berkeley Square, but 145 Piccadilly was to be her childhood home. The whole top floor was turned into a nursery which she shared with her sister Margaret Rose, and both were educated privately here by governesses. Their grandfather King George V died in January 1936, succeeded by their uncle Edward VIII who lasted only 11 months on the throne before abdicating in disgrace. Mother Elizabeth was at home in bed with the flu at 145 Piccadilly when the announcement was made, saying "We must take what is coming to us and make the best of it." The new Royal Family moved out to Buckingham Palace two months later.

144 Piccadilly nextdoor was the site of a famous squat in the troubled summer of 1969. The London Street Commune moved into the huge empty building under cover of darkness, barricading themselves inside against the police and arming themselves with roof slates, stones, iron bars and a surprisingly large number of water-filled plastic balls. Over 500 squatters took part, protesting against the inequality of homelessness, but drug dealers and bikers gradually took over and the police faced little opposition when they stormed the premises six days later. Maybe demolition workers should storm the current hotel sometime soon - it could only be an improvement.

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