Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro began his American dream in California where he was a successful entrepreneur and land developer. Several years before the Great Depression, he moved to Arizona and purchased a large parcel of land in east Phoenix -- remember, Phoenix was small in those days! He intended to build a resort and residential subdivision there called Carraro Heights. The resort's hotel is the structure that still stands today. It was completed in 1930. The rest of the plan never came to fruition. The hotel and some of the land were sold in 1932 to E.A. and Della Tovrea, who made the "castle" their home. E.A. passed away a year later, in 1933. Della lived in the house until she passed away in 1969. The City of Phoenix purchased the property from the Tovrea family in 1993. At one point it was intended to become a city park, but eventually a group of dedicated citizens convinced the city to restore the property and save the building and the garden. The stone walls surrounding the property are the originals, the divider between this more than 80-year-old property and the development of a major U.S. city that occurred right outside its walls.
The Carraro Cactus Garden surrounds the castle. Alessio Carraro supervised a team of workmen who planted and tended to the garden beginning in 1928. Over the years, the hotel "castle" fell into disrepair and most of the garden plants died. After the City of Phoenix purchased it, renovations began to restore the property to its original plan. The garden restoration project began in 1998 and in the first year 1,400 cactus plants, including 400 saguaros, were planted.
Tovrea Castle renovations include not only restoring the property per original plans, drawings and images, but also making improvements including code upgrades, refurbishment of amenities like outdoor entertainment areas, irrigation systems, and lighting.
The City of Phoenix has designated Tovrea Castle as a Phoenix Point of Pride. Although there were a very small number of occasions when people were allowed to visit Tovrea Castle since the City became the owner, the long-awaited opening to the public didn't happen until March 2012. Guided tours are now offered by the Tovrea Carraro Society, a nonprofit group of community volunteers who operate the Castle on behalf of the City of Phoenix.
In case you were wondering, the name Tovrea is pronounced: toh-vree.
Who Should Take the Tour?
On this tour you will hear the in-depth stories of the people who were associated with Tovrea Castle.
Ten Things To Know Before You Go
- The tour begins with a short video providing background on the families involved and the history behind the purchase and development of the property.
- After the video, the group, usually no more than 15 people, will be taken by volunteer docents to carts that will transport the group through the garden and to the house.
- You will be able to certain parts of the house, but you will not be allowed to go to the top. You may remove your shoes if you are wearing socks, or shoe covers will be provided so that the wood floors remain in good condition. No strollers are allowed in the house.
- This is not a tour for young children; there are no activities for them. There is a good deal of standing and listening to lectures.
- There is no self-guided tour here. All tours are docent-led and you must stay with your tour guide. You may not walk around the garden.
- Don't forget to consider the weather. If you are on a tour in the summer, as I was, you may bring one bottle of water with you on the tour but you may not take it into the house. It will be hot and part of the tour is outside. Tour guides will try to limit lectures to shady areas.
- Tickets are available to purchase online. If for some reason you can't attend on a date for which you have purchased tickets, rescheduling may be possible. If the tour you wanted is sold out, keep checking because someone may have canceled. If space is available, walk-ins may be accepted.
- The tour took nearly two hours, and I thought it was a bit long. I would rather be able to come and go as I please on a tour. Not so here, because once you depart the visitor center with the docents you may not leave until the tour is over and the volunteers take you back to the visitor center.
- It is important to note that after leaving the visitor center for the cart trip to the garden and house, there are no other restrooms. That means about an hour and a half with no restroom access.
- The individuals and organizations who have worked on renovating Tovrea Castle have done a wonderful job. The garden is lovely, as are the views of the city from up on the hill. The house is interesting, and there are informational displays inside that tour participants are free to explore. It's a piece of Phoenix history that is not well-understood; as tours continue more people will become familiar with the story behind that wedding cake building on the hill!
Schedule, Location, Contact
Tovrea Castle and the Carraro Cactus Garden are located near downtown Phoenix at 50th Street and Van Buren. Tours are offered ten months of the year; it is closed in July and August. Since tours are limited in size, these book up well in advance. Sometime the next available slots may be several months in the future.
See images from a guided tour of Tovrea Castle and the Carraro Cactus Garden.
Tovrea Castle Address:
5025 E. Van Buren
Phoenix, AZ 85008
Tovrea Castle Phone: