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Robert McCulloch Paid $2.46 million for the London
Bridge 31 Years Ago; Lake Havasu City
Now Draws 2 million Annual Visitors
By Mim Swartz, The Denver Post
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Oct. 14, 2002 - LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz.-- Entrepreneur Robert McCulloch was luring potential residents to his improbable new community in the Arizona boondocks in the mid-1960s -- Pssst, buddy! Wanna buy a lot in the Mohave Desert? -- enticing them with all-expenses-paid trips on private planes and beautiful women to greet them. 

But he thought his spot in the desert needed something to give it pizazz. 

Pssst, buddy! Wanna buy a falling-down bridge made famous in a nursery rhyme? The old stone bridge that spanned London's River Thames, not meant for automobile traffic when it was built in 1825, was sinking into the porous riverbed. 

Sure, McCulloch said in 1968, when he bid $2.46 million to purchase the 10,000-ton London Bridge and paid another $2.7 million to tote it 10,000 miles across the ocean to his desolate outpost in northwestern Arizona and then to reconstruct it. 

The 1,000-foot-long, classic five-arch bridge had been dismantled and numbered, granite block by granite block. It was reassembled three years later, sequentially numbered block by block -- World War II strafing marks and all-on dry land in the barren desert. A river didn't even run under it. People wondered, what was this man thinking? 

McCulloch later dredged a mile-long channel from the main body of the lake that gives the city its name, creating an island and thus a purpose for the bridge, which was dedicated in October 1971. 

Thirty-one years later, everyone can see that London Bridge is not falling down, my fair lady. And Lake Havasu City, complete with an English village commercial area, is a thriving community of 45,000 people, a watersports playground with 450 miles of shoreline, a place for outdoor enthusiasts and a tourist attraction that yearly draws 2 million visitors -- such as Merle and Peter Hall, of Chingford, England, northeast of London. Since they were touring the West Coast and weren't all that far from Lake Havasu, they came to see the bridge. 

"It's lovely to see. It was part of our youth," Merle says, gazing at the bridge glowing with lights at night. "This is a perfect setting for it. This bridge has a little more character to it than the new bridge (in London)." 

However, she noticed something different this May night. "If this were in London, we'd be sitting in our big coats and boots and scarves. The weather here is a bit different." 

In the winter, snowbirds flock to Lake Havasu City's warm, dry climate. In the summer, the city attracts families seeking an affordable vacation and surfer girls and guys from nearby California. In between seasons, it's a hip place for college spring-breakers. 

Summer temperatures sometimes hover around 120 from late July to mid-August. Most people stay inside or hang out on the 45-mile-long lake, which was created in 1938 with the construction of Parker Dam on the Colorado River. 

"I go to the store at 5 a.m. and come back at 6 a.m. The rest of the day I hibernate," says Barbara Moskala, a volunteer at the Lake Havasu City Museum of History, which has exhibits on the founding of the city. 

Lake Havasu City wasn't incorporated until 1978 but came into being 20 years earlier, when McCulloch spotted the lake as he was flying over the Southwest looking for a place to test the outboard motors he was manufacturing in California. He bought 3,500 acres of land on the lake's eastern shores, which once housed a military rest camp during World War II, then set up his testing station. There were no houses, but McCulloch built a 100-unit mobile home park for workers. 

He later decided this would be an ideal spot for a new city, and in 1963 bought 26 square miles -- almost 17,000 acres -- at $73.47 an acre, the largest single tract of land sold in the state. The same land is now worth about $80,000 an acre. 

McCulloch asked his friend, C.V. Wood, who had designed Disneyland, to plan and build his new city. He bought a fleet of 11 Lockheed Electra airplanes and flew in prospective buyers from around the country on a "see before you buy" program, putting them up in a hotel that he built. He also moved his McCulloch chain saw manufacturing operations from Los Angeles to Lake Havasu, which helped attract workers. 

More than 2,700 flights from 1963 to 1978 brought 137,000 prospective buyers to Lake Havasu City. Many of the city's residents initially purchased lots after visiting the desert during that marketing scheme. 

It is the London Bridge, though, that put the city on the map. Lot sales quadrupled after the bridge purchase was announced. The bridge is Arizona's No. 2 tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon, and is saluted each fall with London Bridge Days. This year, the event will be Oct. 22-28. 

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd, presided at gala opening ceremonies for the bridge Oct. 10, 1971, before a crowd of 100,000. 

With British and American dignitaries attending, the celebration included a boat parade, a banquet on the bridge and fireworks. The city maintains close ties with Britain. 

McCulloch donated back one acre of land to the city of London, and each October during London Bridge Days, a "Quit Rent Ceremony" is performed, with Lake Havasu City officials presenting a Hopi Kachina doll to visiting English dignitaries. 

The acre of land begins at the pillars of the main gate entrance to the English Village, a Tudor-style collection of shops, boutiques, snack places and restaurants, which opened in the mid-1970s beneath the bridge. In keeping with City of London tradition, a heraldic dragon marks the four corners of the acre. 

The English Village includes a small park with a British-American friendship plaque erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It reads: "We are new friends with England and with all mankind," a quote from Benjamin Franklin in Paris after the signing of the peace treaty ending the American Revolution in September 1783. 

The village is accented by a fountain with Trafalgar Square-type lions. It also has a pub, of course, complete with fish 'n' chips, dart board and brewery. But for at least two visiting British patrons, Lake Havasu's London Arms Pub is a long way from home. 

"This is nothing like an English pub," say Allan and Fiona Henderson, of Scarborough, England, who were enjoying a pint and a sandwich. 

They were "on holiday," having driven to Havasu after visiting Las Vegas, part of a 14-day trip to the West. At the time, they were among the few Europeans traveling to the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They had no qualms. 

Their 14-day trip to the West was before people were traveling that much after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "We're more fatalistic about terrorism because of the IRA," he said. "We've lived with it." 

And, he added, "This is not our first time here. We love America." 

God save the Queen. 


Length: 1,005 feet long in London, including on and off ramps; 952 feet long in Lake Havasu City. 

Lights: Constructed from Napoleon's cannons, which had been seized and kept in storage. The cannons were melted down and forged into lamps for the bridge. 

Pitted stones: During World War II, the Germans attempted to blitz London with air attacks. Although the bridge never sustained heavy damage, it was strafed by machine gun fire. 

Purchase: Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City, purchased the bridge from the city of London on April 18, 1968, for a bid of $2,460,000. He arrived at this amount by figuring it would take $1.2 million to dismantle the bridge, and the city of London deserved another $1.2 million in profit. He added another $1,000 for every year of his life (60) just in case someone else used the same method for determining the value of the bridge. 

Although McCulloch's bid reportedly was not the highest, the city of London was impressed with his plan to reconstruct the bridge and awarded the bid to him. 

Architects: John Rennie's design for the bridge was accepted in 1823; it opened in 1831, replacing the previous bridge that was built in the 1600s. English engineer Robert Beresford supervised reconstruction in Lake Havasu City, using copies of Rennie's original plans. 

Antique: To avoid taxation, the bridge was declared an antique and has been identified as the world's largest antique by the Guinness Book of Records. 

Shipping: The 22 million pounds of granite -- 10,276 pieces -- were shipped from London through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, Calif., and then trucked to Lake Havasu City, a 10,000-mile journey. 

Reconstruction: It took three years, from the laying of the cornerstone September 1968 to dedication October 1971. 


Lake Havasu City is on the Arizona/California border, about 700 miles from Denver. It's about 250 miles east of Los Angeles, 150 miles northwest of Phoenix, 130 miles south of Las Vegas and 50 miles south of Laughlin, Nev. 

To drive from Denver, take Interstate 25 south to Albuquerque, then Interstate 40 west to Kingman, Ariz., then I-40 southwest to Arizona 95. 

Lake Havasu: The 45-mile-long lake, with 450 miles of shoreline, was created in 1938 with the construction of Parker Dam on the Colorado River 16 miles downstream. It is a haven for watersports, including boating, water skiing, personal watercraft, scuba diving and swimming. 

The Dixie Belle (928-453-6776), a 120-passenger replica of a paddlewheel river boat, offers narrated tours of the lake. It leaves several times a day from the English Village dock under the London Bridge. 

Eight boat manufacturers are based in Lake Havasu City, most of which hold annual regattas. Also, the Skat-Trak Watercross World Finals, sanctioned by the International Jet Sports Boating Association, is held each October, with 800 personal watercraft racers from 35 countries competing. 

Exploring nearby: Toppock Gorge, part of Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, can be reached by boat or on foot. Jet Boat Tours (928-855-7171, 1-888-855-7171) offers 2 1/2-hour narrated tours to Toppock Gorge on the Colorado River, passing 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs and interesting rock formations. 

Other recreation: Golf, tennis, bicycling, hiking, fishing and camping also are big in Lake Havasu City. 

English Village: This Tudor-designed commercial area with shops and restaurants lines the manmade channel beneath the London Bridge. 

Among unique shops is the London Bridge Candle Factory, 928-855-9097, said to be the largest candle shop in the world. It has hundreds of handmade candles in all shapes and sizes, but if you don't see exactly what you want, the factory will do made-to-order candles. 

London Bridge Days: This celebration got its start 31 years ago when the London Bridge was completed and dedicated in October 1971. The event this year Oct. 22-28 includes a parade, concerts, family activities, and a Renaissance Festival including knights, horses and jousting. 

Information: Lake Havasu Tourism Bureau, 800-242-8278; 

-- Mimi Swartz 

-----To see more of The Denver Post, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to 

(c) 2002, The Denver Post. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. 


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