Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

Tovrea Castle Fireplace 

The downstairs fireplace features a beautiful plaster of Paris medallion of a "flapper".

 

Perched atop a cactus-covered hill in east-central Phoenix, Tovrea (pronounced TOE-vree) Castle at Carraro Heights has intrigued generations of Valley residents. The restoration of the castle and surrounding cactus garden has been named Centennial Legacy Project by the Arizona Centennial Commission in honor of the state's 100th Anniversary and Tovrea's historic place in Arizona lore. The castle and surrounding 44 acres are now owned by the City of Phoenix.  

Thanks to an innovative partnership with the non-profit Tovrea Carraro Society history buffs can join public tours.

 

 


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 is located at 5041 E. Van Buren St., nestled between the city's Papago Park to the east and Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park to the west.



Tovrea Castle's beautiful mantlepiece 

On guided tours, visitors can enjoy the architectural 
details of the castle's main floor including this ornamental fireplace.


The purchase, planning and restoration of this historical park began in earnest in 1989 when Phoenix voters approved bond funds for this purpose. Through six land purchases, assisted by two city bond issues and multiple state and federal grants, the city now has assembled almost all of the site's original 44 acres. This unusual historical park represents the vision of Alessio Carraro for a resort castle in the desert, complete with castle, basement tunnels, dense cactus gardens, putting green, concrete walls, dovecote, well house, gas station, machine shop and much more.

In 2000, the City drafted a Master Plan that was then adopted by the City Council in 2003. Hikes, historic garden walks, guided Castle tours, social functions - all are proposed uses that would transform the Castle and surrounding gardens into a world-class park and historical attraction. To see a graphic layout of proposed park amenities, review the master plan map.

Stenciling adorns the castle's walls and pillars 

The beautiful stencil work is still vibrant on the support pillars and around the tops of the walls in the main living area.


Full Master Plan Report (PDF 1.3MB)
(requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

 

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights
The restored Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights is open for guided tours of the first floor and basement. The first floor with wooden floors and unique plaster finishes, and basement with its tunnels leading to the gardens and unique ceiling texture, also feature interpretive historical exhibits telling the stories of the people involved with this unique Phoenix Landmark, its construction, and restoration. Access to the building's upper stories is restricted due to structural, building code, and accessibility issues. Tour can be booked online at Tovreacastletours.com.

Carraro Gardens
The area surrounding the Castle contains the historic cactus gardens, completed in 1929. While the city of Phoenix started restoration of these gardens in 2000, workers need to expand these efforts and plant more cactuses.

Machine Shop and other historic buildings
Plans call for restoration of a historic metal machine shop and several other historic outbuildings, including a gas station, a well house, two wood frame houses, a bird aviary and a dovecote.

Visitor/Tourism Center
A small visitor center and orientation area along East Van Buren Street would greet visitors. The building would include a park office, a reception area with tourist information, a small auditorium and an outdoor courtyard. The visitor center would allow for a wide variety of activities at the site while reducing the impact on the fragile Castle.

Interpretative Theme Wall/Walkway
A critical pedestrian linkage from the visitor center to the Castle would curve through the natural desert landscape. Along the way, visitors could learn about the site's history from a theme wall with interpretative signs and demonstration gardens. The theme wall's interpretive signage would be made from specially designed copper plate.




Tovrea cactus guard the driveway

 

The effort to preserve and restore Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights has spanned almost 25 years. Listed below is a timeline outlining the efforts to preserve the land and restore the castle and surrounding gardens: 

1989 – 2000

  • 1989 Phoenix voters approved a  $5 million bond program to purchase land and begin garden restoration. 
  • 1990 Site listed on Phoenix Historic Property Register. 
  • 1991 Historic Building Assessment for Castle completed. 
  • 1993 First land acquired -- 7.6 acres. 
  • 1994 Historical Documentation Project completed, including oral histories, photos and archival research. 
  • 1994 City awarded $500,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for additional land purchases/billboard removal.
  • 1996-1997 Additional land purchases.
  • 1996 Site listed on National Register of Historic Places. 
  • 1997 First phase of garden and stone wall/gate restoration completed. 
  • 2000 Conceptual Historic Interpretative Plan developed.

    2001 - 2005
  • 2001 Phoenix voters approve an additional $4.5 million for initial castle restoration and additional land purchases. 
  • 2001-2003 Major land purchases totaling nearly 44 acres completed leaving unprotected only two parcels from original historical site .
  • Private fundraising raises additional monies for Castle restoration. 
  • Restoration plan developed and finalized for Tovrea Castle. 
  • 2003 City Council approves Master Plan. 
  • 2005 Public site tours held. 
  • First phase of asbestos/lead removal. 
  • Phase II cactus garden restoration complete

    2006 - 2009
  • 2006 Voters approve $6.8 million bond program to fund castle restoration.
  • 2007 -- 2009 Second phase of castle restoration completed. In this phase of the project, crews finish removing lead and asbestos from the Castle’s exteriors and interiors; stabilize or upgrade the building’s tunnels, basement and structure to allow public visitation; replace the roof; restored the historic windows; remove a modern spray stucco coat and restore the original stucco exteriors; install fire sprinklers and new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems; rework patio and and entries; fully restore the interior; and install a modern heating and cooling system. 
  • Plans underway to finalize design of parking arrangements, trail development and historic interpretation.

    2010 and future
  • 2011 Utilizing $1.4 million in proceeds from the Phoenix Parks and Preserves Initiative, crews begin work on a permanent visitor’s center with restrooms and adjoining parking area. 
  • Additional garden restoration work ongoing.
  • Obtain funding for full trail development/completion and installation of permanent trail and interior interpretative panels on site.

Carraro Cactus Garden 

A stone lined path to the Castle meanders through the restored Carraro Cactus Garden

 

Originally constructed over several years around 1930, the once-lush Carraro Cactus Gardens slowly withered after the Castle was vacated in 1969. But there is new life in the Garden. Since early 2006, city staff and hired contractors have been painstakingly restoring the garden, which provides the lush desert setting for the landmark Tovrea Castle.

Staff with the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department worked hand-in-hand with cactus restoration experts to restore the vibrancy of the garden. The Garden boasts more than 5,000 cacti in over 100 varieties.
 

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus 

 A Strawberry Hedgehog in bloom

Since beginning work in early 2006 on the cactus garden restoration, crews have:

Purchased and planted 352 Saguaro Cacti.

Relocated over 2,000 cacti.

Weeded and pruned desert plants on the entire 20 acres.

Removed 38 diseased Saguaros.

Planted 62 trees on 30 acres.

Performed 50 cactus "surgeries" to save diseased cactus.

Begun design and started plantings for four stations of the planned interpretative trail.

Inspected all cacti and plants on 46 acres for necrosis and other diseases.

Planted wildflower seeds for winter and spring on 10 acres.

Propagated 3,000 cacti cuttings.

Ocotillo 

Blooming Ocotillo

 

Prickley Pear Cactus 

Prickly Pear

Carraro family car circa 1928 

Members of the Carraro family pose beside their car, circa 1928

 

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 gardener named Moktachev to develop the gardens while the castle was built.

 

Carraro Cactus Garden 

The Carraro Cactus Garden has been painstakingly restored after decades of neglect

When first planted, the Carraro Cactus Gardens were a dense and vibrant collection of desert flora. Recent restoration efforts have halted the gardens' decline, which likely began in the late 1940s.

 

 

 

Under construction, the castle is framed in wood 

The wood frame of the castle, shows in photo above, 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 on the castle patio circa 1950s 

Della Tovrea 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.

 


Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights 

Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Gardens at Carraro Heights


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.  

Cactus Restoration

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Checking the root system Carefully lowering cactus into its new home Educating visitors and staff about cactus
Tending the on-site nursery Project Cactus Expert Riley Le Blanc Removing and thinning the overgrown cactus

Organ Pipe Crating

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Moving crated Organ Pipe Cactus by crane Moving crated cactus proved tricky Each cactus required individual custom crating to avoid damage

Garden Restoration

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Cactus Garden Restoration Cactus Garden Restoration Cactus Garden Restoration
Cactus Garden Restoration Cactus Garden Restoration Cactus Garden Restoration
Blooming Orange Cactus Blooming Yellow Desert Marigold and Cactus Blooming Purple Hedgehog Cactus

> Garden Restoration continued

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Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus Garden walking path Carraro Cactus Garden looking south east
Walking path through Carraro Cactus Garden Prickly Pear in bloom Blooming Hedge Hog
Agave in bloom, Brittlebrush

Saguaro in bloom 

 

 

Brown Bunny Ears

Tunnel & Foundation Reinforcement

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West tunnel reinforcement East side basement reinforcement Steel beams inserted through basement windows
Basement ceiling showing reinforced steel beams West tunnel reinforced Steel reinforcement beams were installed through the basement windows

Foundation Excavation

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Foundation excavation Foundation excavation showing original stone foundation

Asbestos Removal

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Asbestos removal under special covering Asbestos removal under special covering Asbestos removal using high pressure hoses
The castle under protective tarp during asbestos abatement The castle under protective tarp during asbestos abatement Castle after abatement

Interior Restoration

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Windows overlooking the cactus garden Ceiling restoration Fireplace covered for protection
Replacement of downstairs flooring Plaster wall damage Original window trim detail

Miscellaneous Images

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Tovrea Bell The unusual blue enamel sink is original to the castle The basement vault and tunnel
Beautiful original custom built cabinets Fireplace mantel with plaster of Paris medallian of a flapper Detail of the light fixtures and wall stencils
Unusual and decorative Tovrea outdoor furniture Large Tovrea pots stand guard at the entrance path A Tovrea pot seems to have grown amoung the cactus by front staircase