London Bridge stands in desert of Arizona

August 30, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. -- No, your eyes do not deceive.

Here, in the middle of the Arizona desert, is London Bridge -- the London Bridge, the one that's falling down in the famous children's song.

What's more, right next to it is an English village, complete with Tudor architecture, red telephone booths and stores called "shoppes," and a mile up from the bridge is Shambles Village, another shopping area that replicates England's medieval Shambles of York.

It's no mirage. The real London Bridge really does stand in the Arizona desert, its majestic arches spanning a channel of the Colorado River and spawning a spate of Brit-mania.

Bringing the bridge to Arizona was the idea of an entrepreneurnamed Robert P. McCulloch, who needed a bridge but also knew the value of publicity.

Transplanting the famous London Bridge to the Arizona desert, he figured, would not only raise eyebrows around the world but also attract tourists.

That's exactly what happened.

Before London Bridge was moved from the British capital to the banks of the Colorado in 1969-1971, Lake Havasu was just a wide spot in the dammed river. There was no city here, just an idea in the mind of Mr. McCulloch, who had bought land here in the early 1960s to set up a motor testing site for his chain-saw business.

By 1968, visitors had started coming here to enjoy the lake, so Mr. McCulloch decided to dredge a channel through a peninsula to create better water flow. A bridge would have to span that channel.

Coincidentally, London's town fathers had decided to replace the venerable London Bridge, built in 1831, because it was not only too narrow for modern traffic but also because it was slowly sinking into the unstable clay of the Thames River. They put the bridge up for sale. Mr. McCulloch and his partners submitted the winning bid of $2,460,000. Total cost, including shipping and reassembly, was $7.5 million.

Like the original, this is a working bridge, serving the motels and other facilities on the Island.

Reinforcing the English look at the bridge's foot is the Tudor-style Ramada London Bridge Resort and English Village, whose stores have names like Queen's Pantry, Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe and Port O' London Boutique.

All the buildings are done in Tudor style, though some of it could be called tacky Tudor. The City of London itself, incidentally, owns an English pub and gift shop in the English Village. The Ramada hotel, a focal point of activity, has in its lobby a full-scale gold-painted replica of Britain's Gold State Coach, which is used for coronations.

To this ersatz British enclave come thousands of tourists, mostly from California and Arizona.

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