The Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights, otherwise known as the Jewel in the Desert, is located in Phoenix, Arizona. When it was completed in 1930, the castle was located seemingly in the middle of the nowhere. Today, the 40 acres of protected desert landscape is surrounded by bustling metropolitan Phoenix. The 5,000 square foot, 4-story castle sits at the highest point on the property. The castle has a tiered appearance, which is colloquially referred to as wedding cake style.
The cactus garden surrounding the castle contains species from Arizona, New Mexico and California, as well as species from as far away as Central and South America, Australia and Africa. Over 500 species are planted in the garden, each carefully marked with its scientific name since they were first planted in the 1920’s. White river rock collected from the Salt River on the southern end of the original property lines each of the garden beds. The gardens include two ponds, a game court and a horseshoe area. In the 1930’s the Tovrea family, the home’s second owners, added an aviary, reflecting pool, rose garden and large concrete patio.
History: Construction began on the castle in the 1920’s, spearheaded by the property owner, Alessio Carraro. Carraro was an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1907. Originally a shoe cobbler, he built a fortune in the sheet metal business in San Franciso, was a gold miner, a land developer, and was known for his skill as a water witch. In 1928, Carraro moved to Phoenix with big plans to develop the land there into both a resort and a housing subdivision to be named Carraro Heights. The Castle was to be a hotel, and the centerpiece of his design. The cactus garden surrounding the castle was built by M. Moktatchev in the 1920’s. Mokta, as he was known, was a Russian immigrant who approached Alessio Carraro with an offer to build the garden. For unknown reasons, Carraro sold the hotel less than one year after construction was completed. The new owner of the property was Edward Ambrose Tovrea. Tovrea was a successful Phoenix area businessman who had built a well-known meat packing business, the Arizona Packing Company. Unfortunately, Tovrea died within one year of the purchase, but his wife Della continued to live in the castle until her own death in 1969. Years later in 1993, both the castle and the surrounding 44 acres were purchased by the City of Phoenix. Citizens had overwhelmingly approved a bond measure to raise the funds. In 1998, restoration began on the gardens. City of Phoenix officials used historic photographs to determine which species were originally part of the garden, and planted several saguaros and smaller cactus to replace those that had perished. Cactus plants were also arranged less densely to allow proper room for growth. The non-profit Tovrea Carraro Society was formed in 2010 to assist the city with fundraising and management of the castle and gardens. With the help of the Tovrea Carraro Society, the property was able to open to the public in 2012. Restoration projects are still ongoing. The Castle is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is also an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project and an official Phoenix Point of Pride.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The property is open to visitors by tour only. Volunteers lead tours of both the castle and the surrounding cactus gardens. Tours begin via tram with an exploration of the gardens and outbuildings, and continue with the basement and ground floor of the castle. Tours last approximately two hours. Due to limits on tour occupancy, reservations must be made in advance. Tours are quite popular, and fill up quickly. The Tovrea Carraro Society opens bookings for reservations in July of each year, and available spaces quickly disappear. Special event tours are scheduled throughout the year. A Harvest Moon tour takes place on select evenings in October and includes refreshments on the castle’s patio, which is normally not open to tours. Evening twilight tours are available on select weekends in June. The castle and gardens rely heavily on volunteers for support. Garden Days are held on weekends throughout the cooler months of the year during which volunteers may sign up to work in the gardens to help with weeding and planting.
5025 E. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, AZ 85008, Phone: 602-256-3221