European Landmarks in America

April 8, 2010

London Bridge among five transplanted icons

From the second story of her office building, Rachelle Duncan points to an opening between two trees and gazes at a picture-perfect view of the London Bridge: more than 10,000 tons of granite relocated four decades ago from foggy England to the sun-drenched Arizona desert.

Today, the bridge is the claim to fame of Lake Havasu City (pop. 51,934). "It's the nursery rhyme of The London Bridge is falling down," says Duncan, 41, a professional photographer. "Everyone grows up with that, and the real bridge is right here in Arizona."

American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch Sr., who built his fortune on chainsaws and small engines, paid the British government more than $2.4 million in 1968 for the two-lane structure that was completed in 1831 but, by the 1960s, was sinking slowly into the River Thames due to increased motor traffic in London.

"Mr. McCulloch came to Lake Havasu to have a place to test his small motors," says Ruth Brydon, curator of the Lake Havasu Museum of History. "He thought this would make a good place for a city, sort of like Palm Springs but with a lake. The bridge was really to help sell the city, and after the announcement, despite everyone saying he was out of his mind, the land sales quadrupled."

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal, more than 10,000 blocks were offloaded in Long Beach, Calif., and trucked to Arizona. Only one thing was missing: water. So while workers reassembled the 952-foot-long, five-arch bridge in the desert soil, engineers dredged a mile-long channel to connect with the Colorado River. The project took three years, and the bridge was dedicated in 1971.

The stone that had appeared dingy and dark in then-sooty London today looks clean, bright and welcoming, thanks to the bleaching rays of the Arizona sun. Beneath the span, the canal is lined with shops, hotels and restaurants, and is a popular boating venue. "The bridge and water sports are what is important to Lake Havasu," Brydon says. "I think for quite a while it was one of the biggest tourist attractions in Arizona behind the Grand Canyon."

Bridging the gap
While London Bridge certainly is the granddaddy of them all, other transplanted European structures serve as tangible reminders that America is a melting pot of nations, cultures and dreams.

Ever since France's gift of the Statue of Liberty began greeting millions of immigrants entering New York Harbor in 1886, small towns across America have found ways to honor their European roots—often by replicating landmarks large, small and whimsical. Scaled-down replicas of the Eiffel Tower stand both in Paris, Tenn., and Paris, Texas; a half-size version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa tilts in Niles, Ill.; and, literally dozens of Stonehenge-inspired creations dot towns such as Alliance, Neb., and Maryhill, Wash.

"But for authentic landmarks such as the London Bridge, relocation often is the difference between survival and demolition, even if the structures are moved from their historical context," says Douglas McVarish, an architectural historian in Philadelphia.

"If they weren't moved, these things might not have been saved," he says. "I think they bring people connections with the Old Country. There's a fascination with the greater breadth of architecture and the age of structures from the Old Country. And there's certainly the novelty."

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