The Liberty Gazette
May 22, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: On one of our gypsy trips out west we took off from Boulder City Municipal Airport and flew south over the Colorado River where it splits Arizona from California. Over Lake Havasu City the mid-morning sun’s reflections shimmered from the windows of houses below. I nudged Linda and pointed out the landmark. “That’s the London Bridge.”
She looked at me funny and asked, “What do you mean?”
“You know, like the song, London Bridges falling down…” but I don’t sing that well so I stopped there.
Linda: Having had four children, and now with eight grandchildren, even if you don’t count all the times I sang the nursery rhyme as a kid myself, I’d still bet I’ve recited it a few hundred times. “Wait. The London Bridge is in Arizona?”
Mike laughed and explained its history, and the man with the far-out plan.
Mike: London Bridge connects the island in the middle of Lake Havasu to Lake Havasu City. It’s not actually the one the song is about—London had another bridge hundreds of years before. This bridge was built in the nineteenth century to replace the original. But in 1968 the city of London wanted to tear it down and build a new one.
With a drive to preserve history, and maybe a little eccentricity, Robert Paxton McCulloch bought the bridge at auction and had it shipped to the Arizona desert.
Linda: Why? This London Bridge that had spanned the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark from 1821 to 1967 would be such a unique attraction that people would flock to his new development—Lake Havasu City.
Mike: Rumor has it McCulloch spotted the lake while flying around looking for a location to test outboard boat motors. You needed a Jeep, a boat, or an airplane to reach the place. Many thought he was off his rocker when he landed on the island’s dingy little fishing camp airstrip and bought 13,000 acres of barely accessible land on the spot.
Best known today as “the chainsaw king,” McCulloch envisioned a city. He relocated his motor manufacturing plant along with 400 workers from Los Angeles. He also expanded the airport. He built a terminal and lengthened and paved the two dirt runways.
He bought six Lockheed Constellations to bring in prospective lot buyers. Later, eleven Lockheed Electra turboprops replaced the Connies. By the end of 1978, an estimated 137,000 people had been carried on more than 2,700 flights to visit McCulloch’s desert paradise.
I landed at that airport many times, mostly on the last day of holiday weekends, to enjoy the serene, deep blue waters of Lake Havasu after the crowds left.
The bridge stands as a symbol of McCulloch’s most endearing achievement, a city built where nobody thought it could be.
Lake Havasu City’s population is about 53,000, and following the Grand Canyon, McCulloch’s London Bridge is the second largest attraction in the state. That’s pretty impressive for such a far-out idea.