Havasu Pioneers Share Their Story Of The Town Beginning In 1967

Havasu Pioneers Share Their Story Of The Town Beginning In 1967
Nicole Matheson / 20 Jul 2021 / 9 Comments » Comments

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.

The Gibbs’ first home in Lake Havasu. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

“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.”

Craig Gibbs racing days. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

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.

The fountain at Wheeler Park in Lake Havasu. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

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.”

Havasu pioneer

The original entrance to the lower parking lot of the London Bridge. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

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.

The Gibbs’ VW in the London Bridge Days Parade. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

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.

Tina and Craig Gibbs. Photo RSM Team

The Band of Knights marches in the London Bridge Days Parade. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

Outboard races in Lake Havasu 1973. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

Outboard races in 1973. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs.

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

James Gardner attending a race. Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Photo courtesy Craig Gibbs

Craig Gibbs looks through photo albums and papers. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene





9 Comments » Comments:

9 Responses to “Havasu Pioneers Share Their Story Of The Town Beginning In 1967”

  1. Tom Bender says:

    Craig and Tina- thanks for sharing your story. My family lived there in the 60s. I bet if we had stayed we would have met as my parents owned the Western Auto store.

  2. Dave Johnson says:

    My family started visiting Lake Havasu in the 60s camping near Site 6. We moved from Pasadena, California to Havasu in late 1968. My parents owned Nelson’s 5 & Dime. My Birth Father was the first Fire Chief in Lake Havasu, Ernie Smith. They attended the opening of the London Bridge in 1971. I went to Smoke-free Elementary School, Lake Havasu Junior High School, and Lake Havasu High School, graduated in 1985. We lived North of Acoma Blvd. On Cosnino Dr. then moved to Minnow Lane above the High School in 1981. I remember in the 80s when McDonald’s finally opened and the first traffic light was installed at Highway 95 and Mesquite Dr. Our family friends, Fred & Nancy Rower owned the Honda Motorcycle Shop on Mesquite Dr. Just a little further North on Mesquite was Mundell’s Drive-In, best shakes and burgers in town back then. My first job was at A.J. Bayless grocery store on Mc Culloch Blvd. Have tons of memories and still visit Havasu often with out boat. I moved to Southern California after 4 years in the Army where we raised our 2 boys. Best experience I was able to share was the Fireworks show on 4th of July while on our boat in Thompson Bay. Looking forward to the next trip with our boat to Havasu again, thanks.

  3. Kimberly Mccamey says:

    I grew up in Lake havasu..my grandparents lived there for years and we would visit from Cali..then grew up and moved…miss it so much!

  4. Roger Peters says:

    In the late 1980s I helped a friend move his pawn shop from Azuza California to Lake
    Havasu.. I spent the night in a hammock on the back porch with a view of the Mucolough
    House on top of the hill. This after a day on a motorcycle through town with a spray bottle of water on the handlebars for the heat.
    My friends name was Wolfgang and his shop opened for business for years
    He moved there for his sons health

  5. Bob Noone says:

    I was hired by McCulloch Motors in LA in 1962. I was sent to Lake Havasu the next week to be a mechanic and test driver for the outboard division. There were 26 people in Havasu at that time most of them worked for McCulloch. There were 4 drivers at the time, we all had jobs but we also had a lot of fun after work water skiing and fishing. There was talk about a bridge and selling land. I was there 1 year then transfered back to the home office, where I set up more testing in Redondo Beach.

  6. JoAnne says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story and the photos.

  7. Terri Julian says:

    My family moved to Lake Havasu when I was 5 in 1972-73, my Dad jad our house built on Flagship Dr. where my sister Barbara and I spend most of our childhood, before our parents divorced and moves back to California. I recently searched for my childhood home, but it seems to no longer exist. Mayne one day I will make it back there for a visit.

  8. Donald Heck says:

    Around 1958, when Bob McCulloch purchased Scott Atwater Boat Motors, he was flying to LA and passed over Site 6 in Lake Havasu. He needed a place to test his outboard motors and Site 6 seemed to be the perfect place. They landed on the dirt air strip, contacted the owner and the rest is history.
    My father, Oliver Heck, worked for McCulloch in the Advanced Development Division and was sent out to Site 6 to make improvements. Site 6 was then known as the “Site 6 Resort Corporation.” My father and the crew made two new boat docks connected in the middle by a bridge. This ingenious idea allowed access to both sides of the cove for boats and pedestrians. In addition, they removed some old Army/Air Force barracks to make way for the launching ramp, machine shop and nine apartments. On the western point, an area was provided for worker trailers and rentals, and a freezer storage building was added to the office/restaurant. And, finally, the dirt runway was paved in preparation for the arrival of airplanes full of potential land buyers/owners.
    I graduated from Inglewood High School in 1959 and worked at Site 6 during the summers. Following graduation, I attended El Camino College, but was on call if Site 6 needed me. My main job was hauling boats and motors from California to Arizona. I would hop in my truck with a couple of pals, head to Lake Havasu and drop off the materials. The end of my trip involved buying a little boat gas and hitting the lake for some water skiing. What a great weekend!

  9. Joe Blow says:

    Whew! Havasu in the 70’s as a Teen, had a blast…….of course we (stupid teens) used to call it Lake Havascrew. If we weren’t on the lake or partying we were bored. Left in 79, I would love to get back.

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