We enjoyed our stay near Lake Havasu last spring and documented it in the post Arizona: Done and Done. We enjoyed hiking amongst the desert wild flowers, learning about Parker Dam and motoring along the Colorado River. Of particular interest was the London Bridge!
We enjoyed our stay so much that we have had a bit of a buzz since about whether this could be a permanent landing spot for us. So, we are here again on our way south.
There were exhibits about native peoples and wildlife. There was information about the Colorado River and the decisions made to capture and distribute its water. But the exhibits that really caught our interest were the ones about the history of Lake Havasu City and the buzz to grow the town.
As with so many things, the story starts during WWII. The Army Air Force established airfields for training pilots and crews of USAAF fighters and bombers. Seven sites (creatively named sites one through seven) were built along the Colorado River with Site Six located at Lake Havasu.
Site Six was also used for rest and relaxation by Army Air Force personnel. When WWII ended, the military closed the landing field but planned to continue to use the facility for recreation. However, in an odd bit of irony and patriotism, the military found that the property was privately owned. They had assumed it was state land but it was really owned by Corinne and Victor Spratt of Needles, California. The Spratts had allowed the military to use their land without comment because it was needed for the war effort. Ironically, the Spratts hadn’t charged the Army Air Force a fee for occupying their land but the military asked them for a token amount to pay for the improvements. The Spratts eventually developed a small resort on Site Six.
A dozen years later, in 1958, Robert McCulloch happened upon the area while looking for a place to test his company’s outboard motors. He purchased most of the Spratt land.
But McCulloch didn’t stop there. He decided to create a city in the middle of nowhere and needed to create a buzz. What better way than to buy the London Bridge, which he did in 1967. He teamed up with Bud Graham, who had previously worked with Walt Disney, and made it happen.
The bridge arrived in Lake Havasu and was reassembled across the narrow part of the peninsula using existing sand to support the arches.
When dredging under and around the bridge was complete, the peninsula was an island utilizing the London Bridge for access.
With their new focal point ready, McCulloch needed to to build and populate the city. He offered incentives to businesses to establish themselves in Lake Havasu. McCulloch moved his chain saw manufacturing plant to Lake Havasu.
During 1970s winters McCullough advertised his desert city in newspapers to those in the east and midwest. When interest was expressed, they received a follow up visit from a salesman offering a free trip to Lake Havasu. McCulloch even provided free air travel on one of his own airplanes. Who could turn down that buzz?
Years later, retirees and tourists are still drawn to Lake Havasu City and its mild winter weather. Although summers are hot, so is the opportunity for water sports. The London Bridge is still a major draw and others have added to the buzz.
To improve safety on the lake, and to create additional buzz, the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club installed and maintains 26 lighthouses in the vicinity. Lake Havasu has more lighthouses than any other city in the country. Lighthouses on the west side of the lake are replicas of famous west coast lighthouses and those on the east side are east coast replicas. Lighthouses on the island are replicas from those on the great lakes.
Another source of buzz is the casino across the lake! We were more motivated by the cheap way to get on the water than the casino but we enjoyed our evening.
We had appetizers and drinks in the lounge (a more typical buzz), dinner in the dining room and a very brief visit to the slots! Randy lost $5 in two minutes and we still had 15 minutes to wait for the shuttle. I put in my $5, bet $1 and pushed the button. Lights and sounds went off like crazy! At the end of all the hubbub, I won $11.70 (to go with my remaining $4). It seemed like a great time to cash in and grab the shuttle home.
We enjoyed the Lake Havasu area too.
So what is the verdict – permanent winter home?
We don’t have a verdict. We like Lake Havasu but it may be too far from a major airport. I think that is important to me. Also, we’d like a 55+ type community with activities and the ability to leave for months at a time. That doesn’t exist here. If only Mr. McCollugh were still around to make it so!
We enjoyed our visit to Lake Havasu. I still find it surreal that the iconic London Bridge is sitting in the middle of the Arizona desert. What an interesting was to rev up an area and bring in tourists!