The English Village: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow
Lake Havasu City was founded in 1963, but this new community built on raw, vacant land in the middle of the California / Arizona desert never really gained traction until the London Bridge was bought and reassembled amidst tremendous international publicity in 1971. To welcome visitors and support the sale of residential lots, McCulloch Properties also built an open-air mall called the “English Village” on a vacant three-acre site on the northeast corner of the bridge, anchored by “Hog in Armor Pub” and “City of London Arms Restaurant.”
The English Village was not constructed as a permanent commercial center. The store fronts were more akin to what a Hollywood studio lot might look like, with ornate facades affixed to clapboard type construction behind them. Nevertheless, the concept won the affections of visitors and residents alike. New construction expanded the English theme to more permanent retail stores and the London Bridge Resort on the southeast corner of the bridge in later years, although the footprint for the English Village has always been north of the bridge.
The English Village was sold by McCulloch Properties after most of its residential lots were sold and the facility was unnecessary. A brief renaissance followed as local investors tried to recreate its atmosphere of family entertainment. The original pub and restaurant were expanded into a microbrewery and then a playhouse, but the cost to sustain the magic was simply too great and they folded. With additional competition from Laughlin, Nev. and other desert entertainment venues, the number of visitors to the venue began to decline.
The Village went through a series of different owners in the 1990s, each of whom tried to revitalize the area without success. As crowds once underwritten by McCulloch Properties-sponsored leases and entertainment all but vanished, the facility fell into disrepair. An effort to have the City purchase and redevelop it was launched in 2006, but the ballot initiative was voted down by local taxpayers. By the time the Great Recession leveled the U.S. economy in 2007, the English Village had become an eyesore losing more money than it was taking in.
What remained of the facility was foreclosed upon by the mortgage holder, Virtual Realty Enterprises (VRE), early in 2012. The occupancy rate had dropped to less than 35 percent. The loose collection of shops that remained to cater to visitors and local residents had abandoned the British theme.
Today, Recent History
The Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau, still operating a small Visitor Center at the location, stepped forward with a proposal to manage the English Village and help the new landlord clean up the mess that had been left behind. The Visitor Center is now (2017) in City of London Arms Pub and all the shops are occupied.
The owner, Virtual Realty Enterprises is in the process of upgrading the English Village, new pavers, street lights and landscaping. In 2017, construction is expected to be started for the new Holiday Inn Express hotel. After the Holiday Inn Express is finished, VRE is expected to build a Homewood Suites hotel on the location where the previous temporary buildings once stood.