The BBC documentary on Robert Paxton McCullagh’s purchase, disassembly and reconstruction of London Bridge as part of the creation of Huavasa City offers very human insights to the power of heritage – to educate, inspire and confuse – and its write-up offers many insights in the new age of ‘asset transfer’.
The BBC writes:
The Bridge House Estates committee of the City of London Common Council had known for some time London Bridge was sinking further into the River Thames with every passing rush hour. Horse-drawn carriages had long since made way for cars and double-decker buses and, over the years, the structure had been hammered deeper into the riverbed. The obvious solution to members in 1965 was to demolish it and start again; build a new bridge, for a new era of commuters.
Former newspaper and PR man Ivan Luckin had other ideas. ‘He thought it was all very well knocking it down, but what about its future?’ says former councillor Archie Galloway. That’s when Ivan made his move.’ He said to the committee, ‘we ought to sell it’. ‘A lot of eyebrows went up at that.’ Luckin wanted to go a step further and advertise in the United States, where he felt certain someone would be interested in buying a well-known London landmark. News of the sale was soon the subject of newspaper and TV reports trotting out the inevitable line that London Bridge ‘was falling down’…
It was the potential that inspired McCulloch and his business partner, Cornelius Vanderbilt ‘CV’ Wood, who was known for designing Disneyland in California. Stories about how the pair got wind of the sale vary. Luckin’s perseverance paid off. With nowhere to test his boat engines in land-locked eastern California, he hopped over the border into Arizona in search of water. The story goes that it was from the air that McCulloch spotted the ribbon of Havasu’s lake below, snaking through a parcel of land flanked by the Chemehuevi, Whipple and Mojave Mountains…
… The first stone arrived in Lake Havasu on 9 July 1968. About 10,600 stones arrived in Lake Havasu, making the final leg of the journey by road on flatbed trucks. The cornerstone was laid on 23 September 1968 in a ceremony attended by London’s lord mayor. Then work to resurrect the bridge began, starting with the arches, which were laid across the sand. The rest was built around the framework in reinforced concrete. To avoid the sinking fate of its 133,000-tonne predecessor, it was made hollow and finished with a veneer of stone, making it 33,000 tonnes. The stones were manoeuvred in by hand and secured with pins, wire and concrete. The work was slow and laborious – crews had to force the 400-500lb pieces in one at a time. Once the bridge was up, the dunes were sucked out of the arches to make way for the president-approved channel. The land underneath the structure was dredged, allowing London Bridge to tower above a waterway for the first time since it had left Britain.
On 10 October 1971, Lake Havasu’s London Bridge opened to great fanfare. That a sinking bridge in London would be the making of a city in Arizona is a testament to McCulloch. But that it became such a success is down to boldness, determination and belief – a reflection, perhaps, of the American spirit.