LAKE HAVASU CITY, Arizona – His story is unlikely because his presence here, 33,000 tons of granite, 5,295 miles from home.
Built under the gray skies of Great Britain and currently baked under the sun of the Southwest, it is home to the world’s largest purchased antique.
How did London Bridge get here, of all places in Lake Havasu City, Arizona?
Stone by hand numbered stone, a total of 10,276 – that’s how it works.
It was bought in 1968 and completed three years later.
Back then, Lake Havasu City was a city of around 1,000 people in name only.
And then a serial entrepreneur teamed up with the man who designed Disneyland to create what is perhaps the most unlikely tourist attraction in the area.
Fifty years later, Lake Havasu City attracts nearly one million visitors annually.
“This bridge is basically the cornerstone of this community,” says Terence Concannon, President / CEO of Go Lake Havasu Tourism Office, “what it is today.”
And it all started with the strangest import.
“I spoke to one of the builders of the bridge – he is no longer with us – he said: ‘London Bridge has given us our identity,’” recalls Jan Kassies, director of the Go Lake Havasu visitor services. “I think that’s so true because without the bridge we would have been a small town on a lake somewhere in Arizona. There are many more of them. But the bridge gave us something special. “
A city rises in the desert – somehow
There is a chainsaw in the Lake Havasu City Visitor Center.
It’s a major reason the city exists.
Enter Robert P. McCulloch, a Missouri-born, Wisconsin-raised Harvard graduate who sold his first company, McCulloch Engineering Company, for a million dollars before he turned thirty.
The Midas Touch industrialist moved to Los Angeles and was looking for a place to both test outboard motors and relocate his chainsaw manufacturing in the late 1950s.
He discovered the Lake Havasu area, once a military site, and bought 26 square miles of land there in 1963.
The thing was, McCulloch wanted to build one City, a water oasis in the desert, a destination in the middle of the cacti, a paradise with jet skis.
He recruited friend, business associate, and Disneyland designer CV Wood Jr. to create the city’s unique layout.
“No street is longer than a few blocks straight,” says Concannon. “All roads wind in a semicircle around the lake shore. The idea was that every house, place, address in the city should have a view of the lake. And it’s pretty much true. “
McCulloch flew prospective property buyers into town, hit the square, but the business didn’t flourish the way he wanted it – as he was used to.
“I think he brought about 35,000 people here, but not everyone bought a piece of land,” says Kassies. “It went slowly, slowly, slowly.”
And so it was time to think quickly.
‘Who wants a bridge?’
The nursery rhyme was prescient; the song came true.
London Bridge really was fall down. (The second, anyway; the original structure was built in 1209 and lasted over 600 years).
Completed in 1831, the thing sank in the Thames in the 1960s.
“It wasn’t used to traffic,” explains Concannon.
A London city council suggested selling the bridge.
Cue the ridicule from his local officials.
“They said, ‘Well, that’s kind of strange. How can we sell a bridge? ”Kassie says. “Who wants a bridge?”
Robert P. McCulloch held up a hand.
What better / more absurd way of making headlines and targeting the burgeoning community he was trying to build?
“He said to his friend, ‘I’m going to buy the bridge,” explains Kassies, “because when we have the bridge, (people) will take care of our city and our development.’ I heard his friend say, ‘My God, you’re the weirdest guy I have ever met.’ “
Undeterred, McCulloch paid $ 2.6 million for the bridge: double the $ 1.2 million it took to demolish the structure, a 100% profit for the City of London, plus an additional $ 1,000 for each The year the bridge existed at this point would have had its rebuilding, which amounted to six decades and $ 60,000.
The bridge was cut into blocks of granite to be placed around a structure built in Lake Havasu City.
The blocks were shipped by sea through the Panama Canal to the port of Long Beach, California, and then shipped by truck to Arizona.
Each was numbered to be put back together like a giant puzzle.
The bridge was built over land at the tip of a peninsula on Lake Havasu, a 1-mile canal was dredged underneath, and over two million feet of cubic earth were excavated to allow the lake to flow underneath.
It took a 40-person crew a year and a half to complete the project, which cost $ 5.1 million in total.
On October 10, 1971, McCulloch presided over an extravagant dedication ceremony that drew an estimated 25,000 spectators to the bridge.
This weekend, Lake Havasu City will celebrate the 50th anniversary of London Bridge with another celebration.
It is now a city of 57,000 people.
Bridge the past
The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, intrepid Review Journal reporters – they all crossed that bridge.
It is a Wednesday afternoon in September, history can be seen here and felt here.
Touch the lampposts. They are made from the melted down cannons that the British captured from Napoleon’s army after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Follow the inscriptions of two American soldiers from the First Infantry Division who carved their names on the bridge in 1942: Sgt. Fitzwasser; PFC Smith.
The bridge’s facade is littered with bullet holes from the Battle of London, one of the few places in the continental US where the scars of World War II are visible on American soil.
The building in question not only bridges Lake Havasu, but also countries and cultures, past and present.
“It’s about transplanting a piece of history from another continent, another legacy, here,” says Concannon. “It’s the bridge over Lake Havasu, but there’s still the history and mystery of Old London.”
Today London Bridge stands as a monument to the ingenuity of the left, to far-flung entrepreneurship, a massive piece of 19th century British architecture surrounded by palm trees.
Existence alone feels implausible.
A bit like Lake Havasu City itself.
“It’s not only become the focus of the city itself, but also the way people see the city,” says Concannon. “People see Lake Havasu City as a city born of innovation and whimsical ideas. Basically we still are. “
Contact Jason Bracelin at [email protected] or 702-383-0476. Follow @ jbracelin76 on Instagram