Tovrea Castle Tour: A journey back in time

For years the castle on the hill sat empty. Sometimes a single light could be seen glowing from the caretaker’s window. The sprawling property was pocked with burned out, crumbling shacks and choked with tumbleweeds. The allure and mystery of the ‘wedding cake’ atop 44 acres of Phoenix desert never waned, and filled all who were accustomed to the site of this dilapidated structure with identity and history.

From the City of Phoenix:

“The story of Tovrea Castle and the Carraro Cactus Garden begins in 1928 when Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro sold his San Francisco sheet metal business and moved to Arizona searching for his American dream. Carraro found that dream in 277 aces of creosote-studded desert in an area that at the time was just east of the Phoenix city limits. Where others saw a barren setting, Alessio envisioned a resort castle surrounded by dense desert vegetation and an expanding resort community. He picked a small rise to build his castle and dubbed his future development “Carraro Heights,” a name the city of Phoenix still recognizes today for the site.

Carraro’s dream for the property was quickly shattered in 1930 when adjoining property owners began constructing sheep and cattle pens to supply a nearby meat packing plant owned by the Tovrea family. Discouraged, Carraro sold the castle and surrounding land to Della Tovrea in 1931.

E. A. Tovrea, Della’s husband, passed away shortly thereafter in 1932, but Della retained the castle as her Phoenix residence. In 1936 she married William Stuart, the publisher of the Prescott Courier and collector of Internal Revenue for Arizona. They spent most of the year in Prescott but lived in the castle every winter. Mr. Stuart died in 1960, and Della relocated to the castle permanently until her death in 1969. In 1970, the Tovrea Family Trust assumed control of the property.

Since the late 1960’s the property has remained largely unused. Without regular upkeep and maintenance, the fragile cactus gardens declined rapidly and the historic castle deteriorated. In 1993, the city of Phoenix purchased the castle and seven and a half acres immediately surrounding the building. Between 1996 and 2003, the city purchased an additional 36 acres of land surrounding the castle, preserving it for future enjoyment and use.”

For years progress exploded around the castle. Sky harbor airport expanded eastward, as did the city of Phoenix. No longer the odd little house on the outskirts of the city, the castle soon found itself right smack in downtown Phoenix. Plans to renovate the castle had been approved since the 1980’s, but no serious renovations ever got under way. In 2005, the castle opened to the public in a limited form, as renovations finally began. After several bond initiatives, a major economic recession, and numerous donations, the Tovrea Castle is now open to the public, with tours of the restored cactus gardens and the main portions of the interior of the home.

Tours of the Tovrea Castle must be booked well in advance. Staffed by volunteers, the castle tours are conducted only on the weekends, and limited to 15 people per tour. Walk-in tour requests are taken based on availability, but considering the tours are already sold out months in advance, this is not a good idea.

After checking in at the Visitors Center, guests are loaded into golf carts and driven to the top of a hill on the north side of the property. The sense of history, nostalgia and the relentless progress of Phoenix is instantly overwhelming in the expanse of the placid property. The views of downtown Phoenix are spectacular in the midst of the sprawling cactus gardens and white painted rock pathways. The carefully restored castle glistens in the sunlight with the city separated just enough to create an almost serene backdrop.

The interior of the castle beholds history and mystery, connecting other historic landmarks in the city of Phoenix to the Tovrea Castle. The inlay design above the fireplace can also be found in the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix, presented by the Orpheum architects during construction of the theatre in 1929 to the Carraro family as a token of their appreciation. In the kitchen, a bullet hole in the ceiling recalls the night intruders entered the castle many years ago, and robbed the sole resident; the elderly recluse Della Tovrea.

All Castle tours begin at the Visitor Center located at 5025 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, AZ  85008. The entire tour lasts around 2 hours, with comprehensive information about the castle history provided by the volunteer tour guides. Book your tour now for this rare opportunity to travel back in time, to see and experience Phoenix history first hand.

2012 Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights Tour Times

March – May 9:00 AM & 12:30 AM  Saturdays & Sundays
7:30 AM & 10:30 AM  Saturdays & Sundays
July – September
7:30 AM Saturdays & Sundays
7:30 AM & 10:30 AM Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
November – December
9:00 AM & 12:30 PM Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

Tour Prices
Adults $15.00, Senior (55+)/Military/Student $13.00, Children (2 – 12) $10.00. Children Under 2, Free. Group tours are currently not available.

Castle Tour Tips:
Arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your reserved tour time
Bring water for your tour.  Please ensure all containers are capped.
Photography allowed.  Flash photography is not permitted inside the Castle.
Strollers are not permitted inside the Castle.