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.
(The Carraro family are pictured in their car at right, circa 1928)
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 gardener named Moktachev to develop the gardens while the castle was built.
When first planted, the Carraro Cactus Gardens (as pictured here), were a dense and vibrant collection of desert flora. Recent restoration efforts have halted the gardens' decline, which likely began in the late 1940s.
The wood frame of the castle, circa 1929. Workers covered
the frame with stucco, creating the castle much as it appears today.
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
Della Tovrea (at left) on the patio of the castle circa 1950s
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.