In 1971 Robert P McCulloch bought London Bridge and shipped it to a small desert town. But, as our writer finds, the pre-Victorian masterpiece is very much at home on the Colorado River in the heart of Mojave County
Lake Havasu City lies by the Colorado River on a 45-mile stretch of clear water amid the desert peaks of western Arizona. It is about 150 miles from Las Vegas and a seven-hour drive from Los Angeles. In summer the temperature has been known to reach 50C. The landscape is characterised by arid expanses of loamy sand, bare red rock and eroded sediment, while the local flora – cat claws, bursage and mesquite – pokes out of the dusty ground like bristles on a hog. A more unlikely setting for a 19th-century British architectural landmark can’t really be imagined. And yet John Rennie‘s London Bridge has called Lake Havasu City home since 1971, the year of my own birth. Captivated since childhood by the story of its transplantation, I vowed to visit it.
Preparing for the trip, I was excited to read about the so-called “English Village”, a mini London theme park beside the bridge. And on arriving at its south bank, bridge seekers are greeted by silver City of London griffins, a diminutive Trafalgar Square fountain attended by Lilliputian Landseer lions and a red phone box. Sadly, a British pub, once famed for serving imported Watneys Red Barrel in tankards, was boarded up and awaiting demolition, while a Routemaster bus that had long stood at the foot of the bridge, serving as an ice cream van, has been banished to a dusty breakers’ yard.