If you walk along Marylebone Road near Great Portland Street, you might spy a plinth with a memorial to John F Kennedy, but the memorial is missing.
There used to be a large bust of the former President on top of the black marble plinth. Cast by the sculptor, Jacques Lipchitz, it was unveiled by the late president’s brother Senator Robert Kennedy on 15th May 1965, the day after the more famous memorial was unveiled in Runnymede by The Queen. The bust was funded by readers of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and sits on the site of International Students House (ISH), a charity that provides overseas education to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it — and opened its hostel on the site at the same time.
A small weatherworn plaque on the wall at the back says:
“This bust of President Kennedy by the American sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was unveiled on the 15th May 1965 by his brother Senator Robert Kennedy. This memorial was subscribed for by over 50,000 readers of the Sunday Telegraph in amounts limited to £1.”
Interestingly, when the bust was unveiled, it faced toward the ISH’s new building — you can see the Crown Estates Paving Commission building on the other side of the road in the background of this photo — but all the photos that I have found show it facing outwards to the road. It’s possible that as the pavement is narrow, they used the ISH car park as the seating area and unveiled the bust facing the audience, and then spun it around to face the main road after the dignitaries had left.
It has been there, staring out at the busy road traffic ever since it was put here in 1965, but they decided to move it – because as the sign on the plinth now cryptically alludes to “for security reasons”.
Was this some post 9/11 paranoia? Was the bronze so valuable that someone tried to steal it? Was Donald Trump so unpopular that any American memorial was at risk?
That cryptic message was all I needed to want to find out more.
In fact, it did suffer damage, in 2017, when persons unknown vandalised the bust and the plinth it stands on for reasons as unknown as the person who caused the damage. The bust was removed, and apparently, under advice about insurance costs, it was reinstated after restoration inside the IHS building, which is just behind the wall where the bust used to be.
You can freely visit it though.
Just follow the sign to walk around the corner, into the IHS car park, and you can either stare through the glass at the bust in the foyer, or just buzz the button to be let in, and the receptionist was quite happy for me to take photos.
It’s a shame that it had to be moved, but in a way, it’s probably seen by far more people now than it used to be, as it was on a busy road where motorists wouldn’t have really seen it, and we pedestrians can so often be busy walking that we don’t look to the side to see a memorial standing back from the pavement.
Now, every student at the IHS walks right past the bust of a fallen President every day.