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Phoenix, Arizona

Tovrea Castle

A mysterious "wedding cake" castle in the middle of the urban desert. 

They say the desert attracts dreamers, schemers, and prophets. A mysterious, fanciful structure that tops a knoll in the Airport Gateway District of Phoenix looks like the work of at least two out of three.

Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro dreamed of building a resort hotel as the centerpiece of his high-end subdivision, Carrarro Heights. He and his son constructed the hotel over just fourteen months, between 1928 and 1930. The building was a thing of beauty, based on Italian architecture and tiered like a wedding cake.

However, perhaps because of the stench from the nearby Tovrea meatpacking stockyards, or because of the Great Depression, it never opened. Carraro sold his castle and its 42 acres to Edward Ambrose Tovrea, magnate of the stockyards, who transformed the massive hotel into a private residence. Tovrea died after less than a year living in the castle, and is memorialized by a giant steel pyramid on the property. His widow Della lived there until her death in 1969.

Over the years Tovrea Castle developed an air of mystery. As Phoenix grew outward and the land surrounding the castle developed into a metropolitan area, the isolated mansion and its acres of desert attracted a lot of attention. After Della’s death, the land (which had fallen into ruin) was purchased by the City of Phoenix. The structure was restored, its cactus garden replanted, and the grounds were opened for tours.

Visitors on the rare tours (they occur intermittently every couple of months and usually sell out) get to wander across the Tovreas’ desert with its 5,000 plants. Then they are led inside, where they get to peek in the basement and the ground floor of this 1930s palace.

Know Before You Go

Access to the Tovrea Castle is by docent-led tour only. Tickets for the nearly two-hour-long tour, which includes the Castle's interior and the surrounding cactus gardens, can be reserved through the nonprofit Tovrea Carraro Society at (800) 838-3006 or via the website.

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