Historic Sites, Phoenix, Arizona
Tovrea Castle & Carraro Cactus Garden
We went on the Tovrea Castle Tour over the weekend and were taken through the 44 acre property on golf carts which was nice since it was hot. The tour was informative but kind of short since you can’t view all areas of the castle or grounds, and have to stay with the tour group. We were able to see the main floor and basement but couldn’t see the upper two floors. We booked the tour several months in advance since they only do one tour a day and are limited to 15 people on Saturday and Sundays during the summer months.
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. Hundreds of cacti were transplanted along with 2,600 truckloads of river stones, which were whitewashed and used for retaining walls, terraces, and edging for the roads and trails.
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. 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.
Della, who did not have children lived at the Castle until shortly before she died in January 1969, after two men beat and tortured her during a robbery. Both men were caught. 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. The hole is in the Tovrea castle ceiling today.
Tovrea Castle was listed on City Historic Property Registry in 1990 and was placed on the National Register of
Historic Places in 1996.