We have so many people who come to us who want to see the bridge
Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (Vocus) June 13, 2009
A stately icon known the world over through reputation and song, the London Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world. While many know of its current location, the story of how this famous structure came to reside in Lake Havasu City, Arizona is an interesting one.
The London Bridge moved to this desert community in 1968, after being purchased by town founder Robert P. McCulloch. He was looking for something to put his fledgling community on the map, and when his partner C.V. Wood, known for designing Disneyland, heard about the bridge going up for sale, they knew this was the hook they were looking for.
“They really wanted something that was going to make Lake Havasu City famous,” said Ruth Brydon, curator of the Lake Havasu Museum of History. “They knew having the London Bridge in their new city would attract a lot of attention, and new residents.”
The bridge, originally designed by John Rennie and opened in London in 1831, was one of many to inhabit that spot. Historians believe the first London Bridge may have been constructed as early as 50 A.D. by Roman soldiers. Since then numerous structures have spanned the river Thames, including the one now living in Arizona.
Due to its sheer weight as well as heavy traffic flow, the solid granite bridge was sinking slowly but surely into the soft sediments on the bottom of the river Thames. The leaders of the city of London knew a replacement needed to be built, but there was debate on what they would do with their beloved bridge. The decision was made to find someone interested in purchasing it.
They knew a lot of people would be interested in the old bridge, but they wanted it to be for the right reasons. “The fear was someone would take the bridge’s stones and use them for other projects. They wanted the new owner to reassemble it, make it an attraction somewhere so it may live on,” Brydon said.
McCulloch and Wood drafted a bid in the hopes of being able to bring the bridge to Lake Havasu City. They estimated the cost of dismantling the structure at $1.2 million, then doubled that figure to give the city of London a 100 percent return on their investment. Figuring someone else could come up with that same formula, McCulloch then added $1,000 for each year of his age, to come up with the final bid of $2.64 million.
McCulloch’s bid was declared the winner and the bridge was dismantled. Each brick was given a number corresponding with its arch and location within that arch. The stones were then loaded on to barges, where they were shipped across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and on to Long Beach, where they completed the rest of their journey by truck.
The bridge’s delivers to the US also created an interesting historical note. When being checked through customs, the bridge was listed as an “antique”. This lead to the bridge’s official title as World’s Largest Antique.
Assembly took a few years, as not only did the bridge have to be rebuilt to meet Department of Transportation standards, but the channel had to be dug because at that time, the bridge had no water to stand over. “Back then, the island was a peninsula. While crews were busy dredging the channel, the dirt from the dig was used to support the arches while they were reconstructed,” Brydon said. Historical photos offer documentation of this support process.
After three years of work, the London Bridge was dedicated with a tremendous ceremony October 10, 1971. The Lord Major of London was in attendance, as well as numerous international dignitaries, celebrities and local residents who now called Lake Havasu City home. Decades later, the celebration is still commemorated in a weeklong festival known as London Bridge Days.
Even 38 years later, the London Bridge remains an integral part of the community. “We have so many people who come to us who want to see the bridge,” said Jan Kassies who runs the Visitor Information Center beneath the bridge. “People from England come to see it, as they remember when it was back in their country. They like saying they walked across one bridge on two continents,” he laughed.
While many remember the bridge from England, they often remark at how different it looks. “The stones used to be black when it spanned the Thames,” said Gary Asbury, who runs London Bridge Ghost Tours which takes a look at haunted history of the bridge. “The soot from countless chimneys had coated the stones. But the desert sun bleached it out, so the stones now look more like they did when they were originally quarried.”
Some marks left on the bridge while in London, however, are more indelible. Bullet holes riddle one of the arches, the result of an allied airplane shooting down a German aircraft at the base of the bridge. “The London Bridge is the only structure in the continental United States that has damage from the Second World War,” Kassies said. “We even had someone in the visitor center who confirmed the story about the German fighter plane shot down by a Spitfire in front of the bridge. He was there.”
The allure of the bridge certainly attracts a lot of attention, as an estimated 3.5 million people visit it each year. Traffic counts have put the number of cars crossing the bridge on any given day at 10,000, and still countless more boating beneath it.
“The London Bridge is a central part of Lake Havasu City and who we are as a town. It’s the reason the city is such a popular destination. People come for the lake, for the beautiful scenery and the activities, but the London Bridge is what got their attention,” said Kassies.