The Time They Moved London Bridge to Lake Havasu City, Arizona

June 30th, 2017 · No Comments

Lake Havasu City by Jane St. Clair

It’s easy to be a kook in the American West. The distances between houses are so great that you don’t really care what your neighbors think of you. You don’t really have any neighbors.

Robert Paxton McCullough was an Arizona kook. While those of us with ordinary eyes can see only hot desert, he could picture a city. Standing on the courthouse steps in Kingman, Arizona, in 1963, McCullough purchased 26-square miles of desert at $75 an acre. Our visionary would build a shining city on a hill next to Lake Havasu, the artificial lake created by Parker Dam, on barren and hot desert land. Then he’d add London Bridge.

The parcel he bought that day had no roads going to it, no electricity and no water. This would be a problem to the average person. How could you get people to live on the Arizona desert where there’s no way to get there except by airplane?

To our visionary, that was not a problem.

McCullough believed every American should own an airplane and would do so in the future. He pictured Americans driving McCullough J-2 Gyroplanes instead of cars. Gyros were a cross between airplanes and helicopters. They could take off from an ordinary driveway. Although McCullough’s factories cranked out 200 J-2s, this was one of his few ideas that never made it off the ground.

By 1971 McCullough was taking out ads in magazines and on television to lure people to move to out to Lake Havasu City. He offered free flights to Arizona and all-expense-paid vacations in Lake Havasu City. Why shiver through another dreary winter in the Midwest … with your squirrelly baby boomer children in their Davy Crockett hats … when you could live in BEAUTIFUL LAKE HAVASU CITY! with a winter temperature averaging a balmy 70 degrees. (What McCullough’s ads didn’t say is it gets up to 120 degrees in summer.)

By 1978 over 137,000 people had taken free vacations in Lake Havasu City. Salesmen driving white Jeeps greeted them when they landed, and wined and dined them for a week. McCullough promised them jobs in his factories that made his chainsaws and outboard motors.

Yet he believed Lake Havasu City needed something more — something awesome cool! …. something Disneylandish! …. a great tourist attraction that everyone would talk about!

That’s when he decided to buy London Bridge and move it 5,285 miles to Lake Havasu City.

Meanwhile back in England, London Bridge was sinking into the Thames River under the weight of automotive traffic. The British were sentimental about their old bridge dating to 1831. They put it up for auction, but would not sell it to anyone planning to demolish it.

McCullough figured it cost $1.2 million to take the bridge apart and move it to Lake Havasu City. He doubled that, added $1,000 for each year of his life to come up with the romantic and winning bid of $2,460,000.

Every brick, light post, and decoration on London Bridge got a number before it was packed into boxes and shipped through Long Beach, Calif. At customs, McCullough declared London Bridge as “1 Antique.”

By now the children of Lake Havasu City were singing a new version of the old nursery rhyme … “London Bridge is coming here, coming here, coming here… London Bridge is coming here to our fair city.” Their parents didn’t believe the bridge story until they saw construction workers putting the bridge together. As an added touch, McCullough and a designer of Disneyland created eleven miniature lighthouses. London Bridge opened in 1971.

Today Lake Havasu City has over 54,000 residents. London Bridge is still an awesome cool attraction. As one historian wrote, the miracle of McCullough’s vision was not that he moved London Bridge, but that he could picture a city in a barren desert.

For more information on visiting Lake Havasu City, go to this vacation spot in Arizona!

“Mute,” Jane’s short story about a confused hospice clown, will be published in Image, a journal of art, faith and mystery.

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