Feb.19

Tovrea Castle – An Urban Historic Landmark Surrounded by the Desert

Tovrea Castle – An Urban Historic Landmark Surrounded by the Desert

Tovrea Castle – An Urban Historic Landmark Surrounded by the Desert

If you’re driving by Van Buren Street on the Loop 202, you might spot what looks like a castle on a hill surrounded by a cactus garden. Many people in Phoenix don’t know this castle’s name, what it is and how it came to be there, but they are usually intrigued by it’s very unique architecture and location away from other buildings. Below is some information shedding some light on this mysterious castle on a hill.

History of the Tovrea Castle

The story of the Tovrea Castle starts with Alessio Carrara, an Italian-born immigrant who made a small fortune in the sheet metal business in San Francisco. Eventually Carrara became a successful developer and gold miner. In 1928, he moved to Arizona with dreams of developing a resort destination and housing subdivision to be known as Carrara Heights in the desert just east of Phoenix. The centerpiece of this vision was a hotel, which is the castle structure we see today. Carrara designed the building as well as surrounding gardens himself. He, along with his son Leo, oversaw the fourteen-month project which was completed in 1930. Carrara wasn’t able to fulfill his dreams for Carrara Heights fully as he sold the hotel and a portion of the property to a man named Edward Ambrose (E.A.) Tovrea in 1932. The reason is unknown, though some speculate it was because of a nearby meatpacking plant, others say that it was due to the Great Depression.E.A. Tovrea, who was a pioneer and an entrepreneur who owned the Arizona Packing Company, bought the castle with his second wife Della. E.A. Tovrea died within a year of purchasing the unusual property, but his wife Della lived in the castle until her death in 1969. The castle remained part of the Tovrea estate until it was purchased for preservation by the City of Phoenix in 1993.

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The Tovrea Castle Today

Today, the Tovrea Castle is a historic landmark operated by the Tovrea Carraro Society. Due to budget restrictions resulting from the economic downturn, all plans to open the Castle to the public were put on hold by the City of Phoenix. That same year, a group of dedicated individuals formed a non-profit organization called the Tovrea Carraro Society to fill the gap and work towards opening the historic landmark for public enjoyment. The Society’s Mission is “To partner with the City of Phoenix to preserve, maintain and restore the historic structures, gardens and grounds comprising Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights and to provide access to visitors.”The Society handles all aspects of the daily operation of the Castle including all fundraising efforts, docent volunteer recruitment, public tour schedule, special event bookings, sales and marketing efforts and community outreach programs.

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The Cactus Garden

In the early stages of the Carraro Heights development, a Russian man by the name of M. Moktatchev, known as Mokta, proposed to build a cactus garden for the estate. He was able to acquire various desert related plant specimens from Australia, South America and Africa’s Sahara Desert. These were in addition to the cacti he acquired from California, Colorado, New Mexico, Mexico and Arizona. With the help of Carraro’s help, Mokta planted over 500 specimens of cactus in the garden, creating a sort of miniature desert botanical garden. One of the most striking parts of the garden is the array of the white river rocks that line the garden. These rocks were collected from the Salt River which was on the southern end of Alessio’s property.Although many of the original plants did not survive through the years, the sense of grandeur of the gardens is still apparent today. In 1998 the City of Phoenix began the first phase of the Garden restoration. Over the course of a year, the restoration team planted 400 Saguaros and 1,000 smaller cactus. Eventually, the plan for the Garden is focused on returning the plantings and garden features to the original 1928-1932 layout as envisioned and designed by Alessio Carraro and his gardener Mokta.

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Tovrea Castle Tours

Tours of the castle are available, but are very popular and must be booked in advance. Tours are limited to 14 people and you can purchase your ticket by calling 1-800-838-3006 or online. Tour prices are range from $15 for adults to $10 for children, with children under 2 admitted for free. All tours begin at the Visitor Center and are 2 hours long. The tour includes a guided drive around the gardens and a walk through the first floor and basement of the castle.

Tovrea Castle is a mysterious remnant of a developer’s dream that never was completed. Today, it sits majestically on top of a hill, visible from many parts of town, including the Loop 202. It represents a very early era of Phoenix development in the late 20s and early 30s and it is now open for the public to enjoy through guided tours.

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