Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facts About Tovrea Castle in Phoenix, Arizona

Well, I was born & raised in Arizona & have driven by Tovrea Castle many times but have never seen it up close so I decided to do some research on it & find out how to get a tour. If you'd like to see some pictures of Tovrea Castle & the cactus garden please click here:

The castle is not open to the public at the present time. It is scheduled to open in the late fall of 2010. They are scheduled to begin November and run until April. You can visit the Cactus Garden now on a tour and see the castle up close but you won’t be able to go inside.

The cost of the Cactus Garden tour is $15.00 per person ages 8 to adult. You can register for the cactus Garden tour on line at and click on Classes and Programs on the left side of the page.

Tovrea Castle, perched atop a cactus-covered hill in east-central Phoenix, has intrigued generations of Valley residents. The castle was built by Alessio Carraro between 1928-1930, who also added a spectacular desert garden now known as the Carraro Cactus Garden. The castle and surrounding 44 acres, now owned by the City of Phoenix, have been officially named Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights in recognition of the families associated with its history.

The castle structure recently underwent massive restoration and the city continues efforts to restore the Carraro Cactus Garden. However, recent budget reductions made necessary by the severe economic downturn have forced the suspension of tours of the cactus garden and plans for access to the castle.

The castle, a Phoenix Point of Pride, is a collaborative project of the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. Tovrea Castle was listed on City Historic Property Registry in 1990 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The Castle and Gardens are born
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.

From 1928 to 1930, Alessio, his son Leo and a crew of about 20 workers shaped the landscape into a spectacular desert paradise. Crowning this landscape was the magnificent wedding cake-shaped "castle" reminiscent of his Italian homeland. Carraro hired a talented Russian gardner named Moktachev to develop the gardens while the castle was built.

A dream is dashed
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.

But a home is created
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.

A landmark is saved
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.

Many years of planning have gone into the rehabilitation of the Castle, and the project is intricate and complicated. The first step was to remove lead and asbestos from the Castle’s exteriors and interiors. The city now is stabilizing or upgrading the building’s tunnels, basement and structure to allow public visitation.

The rehabilitation includes replacing the roof; rehabilitating historic windows; removing a modern spray stucco coat and restoring the original stucco exteriors; installing fire sprinklers and new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems; reworking patios and entries; and fully restoring the interior.

A time-line of activities relating to Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden Park restoration is listed below:

1989 – 2000
*1989 Bond Issue passes allocating $5 million to purchase land and begin garden restoration.

Site listed on Phoenix Historic Property Register in 1990.

Historic Building Assessment for Castle completed in 1991

*Acquisition of land, beginning with 7.6 acres in 1993. Additional land purchases in 1996 and 1997.

*1994 Historical Documentation Project completed, including oral histories, photos and archival research.

*City awarded $500,000 ISTEA grant from the Federal Highway Administration for additional land purchases/billboard removal.

*1996 listing of site on National Register of Historic Places.

*Phase I garden restoration and stone wall/gate restoration completed in 1997.

*Conceptual Historic Interpretative Plan developed 2000.

2001 - 2005
*2001 Bond Program passed including $4.5 million for additional land purchases and castle restoration.

*Major land purchases in 2001, 2002 and 2003, with nearly 44 acres acquired and only two small parcels outstanding from original historical site.

*Private fundraising raises additional monies for Castle restoration.

*Restoration plan developed and finalized for Tovrea Castle

*City Council approves Master Plan in 2003

*Public site tours held in Spring 2005.

*Phase I asbestos/lead abatement of Castle in 2005

2005 - 2009

*Phase II cactus garden restoration complete

*Phase II restoration of Castle begins in 2007 with completion slated for 2009.

*Plans underway to finalize design of parking arrangements, trail development and historic interpretation.

2010 and future

*Because of budget reductions in spring 2010 necessitated by the severe economic downturn, plans to begin operations and opening the castle and grounds are on hold. The city of Phoenix is working hard to identify partners that may be able to assist with operations of the site.

*Obtain funding for permanent visitor’s center/restrooms, machine shop re-construction (for public event space), and restoration of historic outbuildings and site features.

*Additional garden restoration work ongoing.

*Obtain funding for full trail development/completion and installation of permanent trail and interior interpretative panels on site.

Tovrea Castle was born out of the vision of Italian Alessio Carraro. Carraro came to Phoenix in 1928 with a dream to build a resort hotel castle surrounded by an exotic cactus garden and a subdivision of deluxe homes. While Carraro's dream of a hotel-resort never came to be, he did build the castle. It was purchased by stockyard mogul E.A. Tovrea in 1931, and the unique home became a historic Arizona icon in the city of Phoenix.

Read the complete transcript:

Tovrea Castle is an intriguing house on a hill east of Phoenix often referred to as “the wedding cake”. There are almost as many urban legends surrounding it as there are Saguaros, such as the rumor that the former owner was killed here, and her ghost haunts the Castle. Another tall tale, that the Castle was Al Capone's hideaway in the desert.

Mark Lamm:
And there really is nothing to tie the Chicago Mob with the Castle, but you know, it made a great story. And I think in later years, after the Tovreas bought the property and it became a private residence and people weren't allowed on the property anymore, it just made it all the more mysterious because you couldn't get on the property.

But the myths came long after the real story began. Tovrea Castle was born out of the vision of Italian immigrant Allesio Carraro. Carraro came to Phoenix in 1928 with a dream to build a resort hotel castle surrounded by a deluxe subdivision.

Barbara Stocklin:
He hired an architect from Texas in 1928 who did some drawings that were actually printed in the newspaper, which showed a pretty elaborate, detailed castle.

Carraro purchased 277 acres in an area that was on the outskirts of Phoenix at the time. He envisioned his hotel castle encircled by a lush, exotic cactus garden.

Rilée LeBlanc:
He wanted an instant desert paradise that he could come and enjoy every day. That's why he planted them so densely because he wanted -- he just loved it. And we want to be able to share this experience with other people for several generations to come.

The site, however, was mostly solid granite. With his son, Leo, and hired workers, Carraro used a leveler and rock crusher to grind the granite into gravel for walkways. Another local resource was used in the garden.

Barbara Stocklin:
When you walk around the cactus gardens, you'll see all these river stones that are painted white. He apparently sent his crews down to the Salt River, and his son says it was something like 2,600 truckloads of river rocks from the Salt River .

The 1929 Stock Market Crash forced Carraro to scale back, simplify his construction, and be resourceful, using recycled materials inside.

Barbara Stocklin:
The maple floors came from other -- at least one other building that was being demolished in Phoenix . The kitchen cabinets came from a bank that was being remodeled, Phoenix National Bank downtown.

Another salvaged item from the Phoenix National Bank:
a vault placed in the basement as a Wine Cellar. Also in the basement, this unique pulled plaster ceiling presents an eerie feeling.

Mark Lamm:
Yeah, I think it's part of that basement thing. Basements have that kind of a musty know, the light isn't as good. And in this one, you really feel like you're underground because of that pulled plaster ceiling.

Today, the interior of the Castle remains much like when Carraro built it.

Barbara Stocklin:
The walls are all plaster. He did stencil borders that are on this floor as well as Art Deco light fixtures that are throughout the building, and they remain. He also had some very decorative plaster work that was done by some Italian plaster workers who were in Phoenix at the time to work on the interiors of the Orpheum Theater.

Carraro drew attention to the Castle by lighting it up in grand style.

Mark Lamm:
Apparently, they went around and they dipped all the light bulbs in colored paint -- you know, red, blue, green for Christmas. And then they strapped the Christmas Tree to the flagpole on the top of the Castle and the Christmas Tree was all lit up.

But Carraro's dream of a hotel resort would never come to be. His neighbor, E.A. Tovrea, had a stockyard nearby. The stockyard stench would no doubt deter and disturb future guests. Carraro had one hope:
the property between the stockyard and his castle was for sale and could serve as a buffer.

Mark Lamm:
That property was owned by a man, Dolph Bates, who lived in Globe. E.A. Tovrea and Carraro were both vying to buy that property from Mr. Bates. Leo swears that his dad was offering the same money that Tovrea was, but for some reason the land was sold to the Tovreas, and Tovreas immediately put in sheep pens.

Exasperated, Carraro put his Castle up for sale. Through a real estate agent, it was sold to an anonymous buyer in 1931, and Carraro moved to San Francisco . That buyer turned out to be E.A. Tovrea. Tovrea bought the castle for his wife, Della.

Mark Lamm:
We believe that it was Della that was behind it. I mean, they had what would have been a very nice home at the time over here at 48th street and Van Buren. Della wanted the Castle on the hill, which really wasn't as modern a building, but they bought the Castle and immediately moved into the Castle. And within about nine months of moving into the castle, E.A. passed away, and it left Della living here alone.

Della Tovrea lived there until 1969, when burglars broke into her Castle and assaulted her.

Mark Lamm:
She slept on a cot in the kitchen and heard them come in upstairs. She also carried a pistol with her to scare people off the property. She fired the pistol through the ceiling in the kitchen to try to scare them off, but it didn't. She was tied up and beaten up in the robbery and passed away a couple of months later.

The Castle sat little used for decades. In 1993, the City of Phoenix , realizing its value to Arizona , began the process of acquiring the property.

Barbara Stocklin:
You wouldn't see this in New England, you wouldn't see this in Texas or California . It's a place that's just truly Phoenix .

The City of Phoenix is committed to the restoration and preservation of the Tovrea Castle and its gardens, making this unique bit of Arizona history a place the public can again enjoy.

Mark Lamm:
Carraro built this to bring people out here. It was a very public place. He even had botanical names on plants in the garden. People were welcome to walk through the garden. But when the Tovreas bought it, it was never really open to the public. Very few people ever saw it, so it was always this mysterious building on the hill.

Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden – Phoenix, Arizona

2009 (Spring) Schedule for tours: Saturday only with tours at 8 and 10 am. Cost: $15 per person. Tickets available at their site online or at any of the community centers in Phoenix. This is for the Cactus Garden only. The Castle should be open for tours in late fall of 2010. They plan to have tours from November until April.

Situated in Phoenix is the Tovrea Castle which was built to resemble a wedding cake by Alessio Carraro. He had the idea to build it as the hotel for a development he wanted to do in the area in 1928. He bought 277 acres of land, hired a Russian gardener names Moktachev to develop the gardens while the castle was built and was off on his dream. The problem was that he lost interest when adjoining property owners began construction sheep and cattle pens to supply a nearby meat packing plant which was owned by the Tovrea family. Carraro sold the castle and surrounding land to Della Tovrea in 1931. The castle became home to her with her second husband, William Stuart, the publisher of the Prescott Courier and collector of Internal Revenue for Arizona. They split their time between their home in Phoenix and the castle. Following the death of Mr. Stuart in 1960 Della moved to the castle permanently until she died in 1969.

The castle and gardens fell into disrepair over the years until the city of Phoenix purchased the property and began restoration. The cactus gardens are now completely restored and garden tours are available. The Castle should be ready for tours in December of 2008 following extensive refurbishing.

Location: 5041 E Van Buren St., Phoenix, Arizona
Coming from the North, South or West: take the 202 eastbound and get off at the 52nd St./Van Buren exit. Turn right (west) unto Van Buren, then turn left (south) at the driveway of the Castle. From the East take 202 westbound, exit at 52nd St., turn left (west) at Van Buren and left (south) at the drive to the Castle. Enter via Van Buren Street Only.

Behind the thick cactus gardens and wedding-cake exterior, crews preparing Tovrea Castle for tours this February are discovering treasures that bring to life a site shrouded in mystery for most of its 80 years.

The wine cellar, made from a vault hauled over from First Bank of Arizona, has no latches because the castle's second owner, Della Tovrea, had a premonition that she would be locked inside.

The cellar was lined with old newspaper clippings, one of them dealing with Babe Ruth's exploits on the field. Its ceiling, which looks liked spiked meringue, has some round clay objects that appear to have been put there by a child who thought it would resemble a bird's nest.

The kitchen has a bullet hole from when Della Tovrea was robbed and beaten by intruders in 1968.

"There is just no place like it in the world," said Doris Lutes, a recreation leader for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.

Tovrea Castle, a landmark to those passing on the Red Mountain Freeway near Sky Harbor International Airport, was built from 1928 to 1930 by Alessio Carraro, an Italian immigrant who made his fortune in sheet metal before moving to Phoenix from San Francisco.

Carraro built the castle as a hotel and had wanted to build luxury homes around it on his 277-acre property east of Phoenix, but he decided that livestock pens built on neighboring lots would ruin that idea. He sold his castle and the grounds in 1931, with cattleman and butcher shop owner E.A. Tovrea making a sealed bid of $21,500.

E.A. Tovrea died of pneumonia in 1932, and his wife, Della, remarried in 1936 to William P. Stuart, publisher of the Prescott Courier. They lived in the castle during winters until Stuart died of natural causes in 1960. Both of Della Tovrea's husbands died at the castle, adding to its mystery over the years.

Della Tovrea then lived in the castle full-time until 1968, when a robbery occurred where she was tied up and beaten. This caused her to move into a rest home where she died a few months later at the age of 80.

After that, the site fell into disrepair until 1993, when Phoenix voters approved $5 million to purchase and restore the castle. A $4.5 million bond authorized in 2001 helped the city expand its holdings around the castle to 44 acres.

The renovation of the castle and grounds includes extensive repairs to the building's shell, roof and exterior stucco, stabilizing the structure and removing lead and asbestos.

Many of the repairs are aimed at making the castle safe for visitors, said Jason Harrington, a registered landscaper with E Group Inc., the company hired to landscape the property.

"There has been a lack of maintenance over the years," Harrington said.

Jason Johnson, a gardener and the only full-time city worker at Tovrea, said restoring the castle and the surrounding gardens has been a challenge because Cassaro drew the design sketches in the sand. Blueprints weren't created until Phoenix purchased the property, and those blueprints have changed as workers have discovered more about the layout of the building and facilities.

Johnson is responsible for restoring the deteriorated gardens, which grace the hilltop with more than 300 species of cactus.

"We depend on old historic photos to see what plants went where," he said.

The public already can tour the cactus gardens. Johnson said visitors will be impressed by what they see when the castle opens.

"Our goal is to see people leave happy with what they were given the chance to see," Johnson said.

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