When I was a young teen, I remember hearing about a loony American millionaire who had bought the London Bridge, and had it shipped to Arizona, brick by brick.
We just put it down to eccentricity – one of those “Only in America” stories.
Then, this week, Shirley and I drove across that bridge, in an Arizona city called Lake Havasu City.
And it turns out that rather than being eccentricity, the decision was ‘crazy like a fox’ … it became an amazing way of drawing people to the city.
But lets backtrack a bit.
Lake Havasu is a stretch of the Colorado River behind the Parker Dam which was built in the 1930s .. it was the site of a US Air Corps camp during the second world war, but was otherwise unused until a California businessman, Robert McCullough, started using the lake to test the engines of watercraft he was selling.
He apparently decided that the shores of the lake would be a great site for what today we would call a master-planned community – and so he bought more than six thousand hectares of land, and called in the man who designed Disneyland to lay out the towns streets and central business area.
McCullough then started flying in prospective landowners – giving them a free return flight from California or elsewhere, wining and dining them and giving them all expenses paid accommodation.
And that worked – but he still needed some sort of ‘show stopper’ .. and that’s when London Bridge came on the market.
The bridge was no longer capable of handling the heavy traffic that London was generating by the end on the 1960s .. and so McCullough bought it for the then-astounding sum of 2.4 million dollars.
He had the bridge disassembled, each brick labelled, and then shipped the structure to Lake Havasu where it was rebuilt across a dry gulch. That gulch was then dug out, creating an ‘island’ connected to the shoreline by the bridge.
And what a show-stopper it has become.
We were wandering through the visitors centre this week when we came across a series of maps with pins representing where visitors had come from.
The US map was like a porcupine — hardly a spot was unpinned. Europe was less jam-packed (but there were still plenty) and even our home town of Brisbane in Australia had about 20 pins.
And that’s all since the maps were put up just 10 months ago.
Now, not every visitor comes to Lake Havasu City specifically to see London Bridge.
But there’s little doubt that the presence of the bridge has helped develop the resorts and tourism which are the raison d’etre for Lake Havasu City
“London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
And now it draws in tourists.”