London Bridge.

London Bridge

Field review by the editors.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Some historians think that the American Empire peaked in 1969, when NASA put a man on the moon. But if we were to make our own self-kicking machine pronouncement, we'd say that the peak happened a year earlier, when the cash-strapped City of London sold its famous London Bridge to an American oilman.

Robert P. McCulloch, who also manufactured chainsaws, paid $2.5 million for the bridge. He then paid another $7.5 million to have it pulled apart, crated, shipped to the U.S., and reassembled as the centerpiece of a city that he was building in the Arizona desert. As a final gesture, McCulloch had the bridge declared an antique to avoid paying taxes on it.

View of London Bridge from the southeast side.

(America has a number of replicas of Old World wonders, some quite impressive, but this is a rare instance in which we nabbed the real thing.)

The bridge is 950 feet long and weighs 33,000 tons. It's sometimes confused with the more visually interesting Tower Bridge (which remains in London) and sometimes mistakenly believed to date from the Middle Ages (it was built in 1831). The only thing that the bridge really has going for it is the "London Bridge" name, but that was enough for McCulloch. He had it rebuilt on dry land, then had a mile-long "river" dug underneath it, turning a Lake Havasu peninsula into an island and giving the bridge something to do.

Tudor-style stores and restaurants.

Decades have passed since the bridge reopened on October 10, 1971, and the novelty of driving over London Bridge has passed for Lake Havasu City, if not for its tourists. A Merry-Olde-England mini-resort, built next to the bridge in the 1970s, still stands. On the other side of the roadway, we bought a chip of the bridge, glued to a card, in a gift shop.

Lake Havasu City, however, was built to be self-supporting -- much more than a bridge -- and it has succeeded. It's the most lively metropolis within 150 miles. To a younger generation, London Bridge is not a symbol of American ascendency; it's just the quickest route between the Burger King and the Javelina Cantina.

London Bridge

Address:
McCulloch Blvd, Lake Havasu City, AZ
Directions:
The bridge is on McCulloch Blvd, perpendicular to, and just west of, Hwy 95. Look for the signs.
Phone:
928-855-4115
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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September 2, 2014

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