“That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard!” laughed Bob McCulloch. He was the same McCulloch who’d made a fortune in manufacturing McCulloch chainsaws, so he knew the difference between a good idea and a crazy one. Nonetheless he cogitated on it for a while, and it grew on him. It occurred to him that sometimes crazy ideas can also be good ideas.
He’d come to Lake Havasu, on the Colorado River, to compete against his brother-in-law, Ralph Evinrude. Bob had excelled in chainsaws, and wanted to do the same with outboard motors, just like his B-I-L, Ralph. He planned to test the motors he developed, on the waters of the lake.
Little did Bob realize that his venture into outboard motors would drift over to real estate, and eventually take him to London.
The federal government had closed a military base at this lake, and returned the land to the state of Arizona. And the Arizona government was stuck trying to figure out what to do with these 26 square miles along the shore.
But Bob got an idea, he offered to purchase the land for less than $75 an acre, with a promise that he would develop it. In 1963 he cut a deal with the state, and suddenly found himself in the real estate business.
And now he faced the challenge of attracting buyers. Turned out, almost nobody wanted to live in that hell hole. Lake Havasu sits in the broiling hot, miserable, low desert. The average high exceeds 100 degrees from June through September. The record high is 128. And the waters from the lake make it a humid, sticky heat.
And besides, it was in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing going on at Lake Havasu except howling coyotes, sunbathing lizards, and chirping crickets. Few came to look. And most who did, left without buying any of McCulloch’s developed parcels.
London Bridge in the late 19th Century.
Meanwhile, in England, London Bridge was falling down. This famous, historic bridge had been built in 1831, and right from the start began sinking at the rate of one inch every eight years. Furthermore, it had not been designed to withstand 20th century motor vehicle traffic. The weight of such traffic accelerated and distorted the sinking. By 1924, the falling down London Bridge was three to four inches shorter on its east side, than on its west.
In 1967 the city of London decided they’d better build a new bridge, before the old one sank completely below the surface of the river Thames. But rather than demolish the old bridge, they put it up for sale.
And that’s when Bob McCulloch heard the craziest idea that ever encountered his ears. His real estate agent, Robert Plumer, suggested that he buy London Bridge and move it to Lake Havasu, as a way to attract curious tourists and potential customers.
McCulloch won the bid, at $2.46 million dollars. The historic structure was meticulously dismantled, and each stone was numbered, to assist in reconstruction. It was shipped through the Panama Canal, to Long Beach, California, where it was then trucked to Lake Havasu.
London Bridge at Lake Havasu, as it appeared from a paddle boat we rented last month. Many homeless ducks live here, that shamelessly panhandle for crackers from soft-hearted people such as my wife.
London Bridge was reassembled, by the numbers, on a peninsula that jutted into the lake. Then a canal was dug that passed beneath the bridge, and that turned the peninsula into an island, with the bridge connecting the newly-formed island to the Arizona mainland. And since it was reconstructed on solid earth, and fortified to withstand motor vehicle traffic, London Bridge would no longer be falling down.
Swallows make their mud nests beneath the edges of London Bridge. There are also divots in the stonework of the bridge, caused by Nazi strafing during the Blitz.
On October 10, 1971, London Bridge was officially rededicated, before a gobsmacked public. News of this incongruous relocation spread coast-to-coast. Curious, prospective buyers flooded in on free flights offered by McCulloch, to stand on this newsworthy bridge and take a tour of properties for sale. Soon, McCulloch recovered the entire cost of the bridge, in land sales, and transformed his red ink into a diluvium of black.
The underside of London Bridge. Rumor has it that unicorns have been sighted here.
In 1970, one year before the reconstruction of the bridge, Lake Havasu City had a population of just over 4,000 hardy souls. By 1980 it had swelled to 15,000. And today it boasts more than 53,000 residents.
Modern cars can now pass over the top of London Bridge, without creating a sinking feeling.
Bob McCulloch was almost sunk, from his purchase of worthless desert land. But a sinking bridge connected him to success. Sometimes, when you’re desperate, you have to strive very hard to dig yourself out of a hole. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.
An antiquarian lamppost atop the bridge, with Lake Havasu City in the background.
And sometimes you have to try the craziest idea you ever heard.
Here’s another crazy idea. You can bring your significant other to London Bridge, and lock your love together, at this railing.