By Nicole Matheson
With excitement building for the 50th Anniversary of the London Bridge in Havasu, pioneers continue to come forward with their stories about the early days of Lake Havasu City. It was almost 50 years ago in 1972 that Craig and Tina Gibbs moved to Lake Havasu City from Southern California, and now they share their memories of the fledgling city.
“My first introduction to Lake Havasu was back in 1967 when a friend who worked summers at the Black Meadow Landing marina talked me into helping him at the marina during a busy week,” Craig Gibbs said. “I had a great time and learned a lot about the river between Topock Gorge and Parker Dam.”
Having both grown up in Southern California, Craig met Tina during his college days and the two married in 1971. Fate called the newlyweds back to Lake Havasu when Craig was offered a job at Ford’s proving grounds on I-40 in Yucca, Ariz. So the Gibbs moved to Havasu in May 1972 when Craig started work. They initially stayed at the Nordstrom Apartments until their new mobile home was set up in Valley Manor Trailer Park off Chenoweth Drive where it remains today. The couple also welcomed their first child, Derek, at the then new hospital in 1973.
“Overall, we loved the lake and desert such that by 1974 we had started looking for a place in LHC to build a house,” Gibbs says. “We found and purchased a lot at the end of Hunter Lane and I began sketching house plans. In 1977, our second child, Mindy, was born and later Derek started school at Smoketree Elementary.”
With drawings settled on, Jamie Porter Construction began building the Gibbs’ house in 1978. But in 1979, Craig was offered a job in Southern California. “It was a tough decision, but we decided to accept the new job and move back to California. In turn, we had to sell the new LHC house so we could afford to buy a place in California. We settled on a home in Stanton, Calif., not far from Knott’s Berry Farm.”
Fast forward to 1995, when folks that the Gibbs knew advised them that their original house on Hunter Lane was for sale. “Without hesitation, we refinanced our Stanton house and purchased the Hunter Lane house. In the following years we rented the LHC house to senior winter visitors to help cover the upkeep and taxes.”
By 2014, the Gibbs had retired from their jobs, and their now three children (Brenda was born in 1982) were out in the world, so they decided to move into the Hunter Lane house. “It took several months and over a dozen trips with our truck to finally move everything to LHC. Our Stanton house sold in 2015, making us full-time LHC residents again.”
So what was Lake Havasu like in the ’70s?
The Gibbs remember that, “Lake Havasu was a very simple community with fewer than 15,000 full-time residents, no multi-lane highways or traffic signal lights. State Route 95 through town back then was London Bridge Road. Stores included long gone names such as Claypools and Yellow Front, a Sears catalog store and a green stamps redemption store.
There was a drive-in theater north of town and a theater on main street. We didn’t eat out much but recall a few restaurants such as The Frigate Lounge, Petrossi’s Pizza, Dairy Queen, The Golden Horseshoe (now Blondzee’s) and our favorite, Hobo Joe’s (now Denny’s). The original post office building on Mesquite is now offices for Dr. Powers and Urgent Care; we had a post office box there because mail was not delivered to our trailer park in 1972.”
The Gibbs remember that the English Village was new back then and quite entertaining with a hedge maze by the entrance, museum and shooting gallery facing the Bridgewater Channel, mini mall gifts shops, etc. The major industry in Lake Havasu during the ’70s besides tourism was McCulloch’s chain saw factory.
In 1975, the Gibbs bought a 1970 VW Beetle during a run to visit family in Southern California. “It was to become our all purpose/off-road vehicle. After some modifications, we used it to explore trails all around LHC’s borders, the Bill Williams wilderness area and Cup Cake mountain.”
In the late ’70s, several off-roading enthusiasts including Craig Gibbs created the Havasu Off Road Racing Association (HORRA). It was an organized club with by-laws, officers and membership.
One of the popular things this club did was organize sand drag racing in Lake Havasu City. The club also participated in the annual bridge celebration parades with floats and race cars, including the Gibbs’ VW. Craig said, “I participated heavily in the club both as an officer and racer; our VW won a few sand drag races. Even after we moved back to California we came out to LHC to attend the sand drags until they faded away in the ’80s.”
The Gibbs have collected some memorabilia from their HORRA days, as well as some priceless old photos, that they shared with RiverScene along with their story of old Lake Havasu.
Thanks to the Gibbs for coming forward, and anyone else who may have stories about Havasu in the early days, please leave a comment.