Wednesday, October 19, 2011

History Restored: Tovrea Castle: City of Phoenix

If you live in Phoenix, chances are at some time or other, you've passed by a hillside where a strange wedding-cake looking building sits high atop cacti and hard baked desert. You might have wondered "what is that?" I lived here since 1977 and have to admit, I always assumed it was a Buddhist Temple. I was thrilled to learn more about it when someone told me the name of the property. It had been vacant for decades and the City is now renovating it to open it in 2012 for tours. I'm thrilled at the chance to see it.

Here's a little of the mystery solved as told by a City Rep who was kind enough to share its unique and rather tragic and haunting history:

Alessio Carraro, an Italian immigrant, purchased 277 acres of land several miles east of the city limits of Phoenix on Van Buren Street (a highway route through Phoenix) in 1928 and set out to build a castle resort hotel there. Alessio immigrated to the United States in 1905 and settled in San Francisco. According to Alessio's descendants, Alessio took a trip back to Italy in 1923 where he became enamored with the castles of his home country of Italy and started dreaming of building his own castle. In 1928, he found out about the resort hotel craze hitting Phoenix and he decided this was a good place to invest the money he had made in his sheet metal business in San Francisco (he had helped to rebuild that city after the great earthquake of 1906). Carraro's hotel castle is a four-story wood-frame structure with stucco exteriors, containing a little more than 5,000 square feet in size and featuring nine hotel rooms on the upper floors. It is shaped like an elongated octagon and includes a full basement with tunnels carved out of the granite hilltop using dynamite; the basement walls are constructed of bricks he manufactured on the site. There is some additional historical information and photos on the city's website.

Hard hit financially by the Great Depression, Carraro was unable to open his resort hotel and sold the property in 1931 to Edward A. and Della Tovrea for use as a personal residence. E.A. as he was known as a local cattle baron whose nearby Stockyards reportedly accommodated more than 300,000 cattle annually and was one of the largest feedlots in the country. Edward A. died within a year of purchasing the castle property, and Della marries William Stuart, a Prescott, Arizona, newspaper owner in 1936. Della and William Stuart reside in the castle only part-time (most of the time they lived in Prescott) until his death in 1960 when she reportedly moved back to the castle on a full-time basis. Della dies in 1969, and the castle then falls to the Tovrea heirs who occupy the house only on an occasional basis until the city begins purchasing property from the family in the early 1990s. The house's last full-time occupant was Della Tovrea who actually was severely injured in a break-in of the castle in November 1968 and never returned to the castle due to her injuries. So, the castle has largely been unoccupied for more than 40 years.

The city spent nearly two decades purchasing the core 44 acre castle estate from the Tovrea heirs, and restoring the castle and castle grounds. Due to the city's budgetary issues, the city is working on a partnership with a non-profit called the Tovrea Carraro Society to operate and maintain the site. The Society is planning to offer its first tours of the castle and grounds beginning in early 2012. While a tour schedule is not yet posted, tour information should be posted at their Facebook page in the next couple of months. Information will also be available via a link within the next few months here.

The Phoenix City Council adopted a Master Plan for the park - called Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights Park - in 2003. The master plan calls for guided tours of the castle and grounds, with several event spaces planned on the site. The castle will have museum quality exhibits conveying the rich history of the castle when it opens in 2012.

If you're interesting in making donations to the project, please contact them at the Facebook page (above link).


  1. I always thought it looked like a wedding cake and have wanted to check out the inside. Fingers crossed for us doing a ghost hunt there.

  2. I am a docent at the Tovrea Castle - you have some wrong into on your site. Della Tovrea was not beaten in the castle during the break in - she was tied up and not harmed. The intruders stole $50k in furs and jewelry some of which was later recovered. Dellabstated in the police report one of the buglars was handsome. Within a few months Della was placed in a retirement home and died of pnuemonia...... nothing to do w/ the break in....

  3. I really appreciate you clearing up the facts on this lovely landmark. Many sources have repeated the information that I used. This often happens with historic sites where the wrong story is being told, like The Oliver House and other locations. Thanks for adding to the information.