LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. (AP) — The Lake Havasu Museum of History has punched up its permanent exhibit about the London Bridge with perhaps the largest addition to the exhibit since it was originally installed.
The centerpiece of the addition is the original 12-foot long mylar print of the London Bridge with each stone in the bridge’s façade numbered to allow the bridge to be deconstructed in London and identically reconstructed thousands of miles away in Lake Havasu City.
The piece shows a unique number on every stone that makes up the London Bridge’s façade – at least on one side.
“It’s the document that they used here in Havasu to put all of the stones back in the right spot,” said Jay Coombs, who obtained the print, donated it to the museum and helped create the display for the artifact.
“We titled it ‘The Key to the Puzzle’ and in just a few words that is really what it is. Without that document there would have been no way to know what goes where. It is an important document, and it shows what lengths they went to, to recreate it accurately here. It was important to them to do that,” Coombs said.
According to Coombs, the drawing was done by Jack Barber in the late 1960s. Barber was a Londoner whom Robert McCulloch hired and put in charge of inventory, documenting and shipping the stones, as well as cutting new stones from the original quarry when one was damaged or dropped into the Thames River when the bridge was being disassembled.
Once everything was shipped, the mylar print of the bridge with numbered stones was used by Carl Baker to reassemble the largest antique ever sold once it arrived in Havasu. Baker was McCulloch’s project director for reconstructing the London Bridge, as well as digging out the Bridgewater Channel.
Prior to working for McCulloch, Baker had been employed by Coombs’ father Joe Coombs at Tri-County Engineering – which later became Trico – and Jay Coombs said the two families were pretty close. Although Jay Coombs has not seen Carl Baker Jr. for many years, he said they are still in touch.
That is how the piece found its way back to Lake Havasu City.
“Carl has all of Senior’s stuff, which includes his drawings,” Coombs said. “Carl was nice enough to send it to us.”
Once Coombs received the print from Baker Jr., he reached out to Jim Boatright who owns a framing shop in Havasu in order to get the piece ready to display.
Boatright said he could hardly believe it when Coombs told him he needed help framing a 12-foot long blueprint.
“I have never in my life had to deal with something that big before,” Boatright said. “I didn’t really know if I could do it or not. Getting pieces of material to make a frame that big is the big thing, because you want continuous links. The big thing was obviously the glazing, the glass, or the plastic that we would put over it.”
Boatright ended up accepting the challenge and worked with Coombs to get everything together. He said he managed to build the frame and they found a non-glare Plexiglas to cover the print – because glass would have been too heavy.
But once it was framed Coombs and Boatright had to figure out how to get it to the museum.
“We had to trailer it because it’s too hard to move it. So we had to put gussets in it to make sure that it wouldn’t sag,” Coombs said.
Once it arrived at the museum, Coombs built a wooden stand to display the print – just above the museum’s model of the London Bridge and just below the information panel on the wall.
“It turned out pretty much as I had visualized, fortunately,” Coombs said. “I’m really happy with it.”
Lake Havasu Museum of History Interim Director Jillian Usher said she feels that the addition of the mylar print of the bridge really helps bring the story of the bridge’s relocation to life. She said Baker’s contributions to the project have always been acknowledge in the exhibit but now there are some visuals to go with it.
“I think it adds a little bit more of the awe and wonder to the legend that is the London Bridge, and the meticulous effort they had to put in to bring it here brick by brick,” Usher said. “So much story is told in that one piece because it shows all of the steps. They had to number it, then they had to take it apart, ship it and put it back together. The incredible engineering and mechanics that went into a feat like this has never been done before. It is still the largest antique ever purchased. It wasn’t just moved here, but deconstructed and reconstructed. That is really a big feat that our city should be proud of.”
Usher said the plan is for the picture to be a permanent addition to the London Bridge exhibit, but it isn’t the only addition. Usher said nothing has been removed from the museum’s existing exhibit but they have added several artifacts that have been sitting in the museum’s collections for years.
One of the additions is a collage of photos Coombs had donated years ago of his parents and the McCulloch’s trip to London in May 1968, after McCulloch purchased the bridge. Coombs said they made the trip to get a look at the London Bridge in person, and to attend a celebration of the sale of the bridge at Guildhall in London.
Other artifacts recently added to the exhibit include a copy of a check for the London Bridge in the amount of $246,000 made out to “The Corporation of the City of London” and signed by Robert P. McCulloch and C.V. Wood – dated April 16, 1968. The museum has also added a couple vinyl records featuring the London Bridge that were written in Havasu along with a few artifacts commemorating the original dedication of the London Bridge in Havasu on Oct. 10, 1971 – including a bolo tie, a large coin, and a decorative egg.
Usher said that to her knowledge, this is the largest update to the museum’s London Bridge exhibit since it was originally created.