May 27th, 20121

Tovrea Castle began in the spring of 1928 on the 43 acres known as “Warner Heights” of the 277 acres of undeveloped desert that was purchased by Italian immigrant and California businessman Alessio Carraro.2 Mr. Carraro envisioned the site as a commercial development surrounded by cactus gardens.3 The property was located along the Tempe Road (now 5041 E. Van Buren Street) 4 miles east of Phoenix. At that time, the Phoenix city limits extended west to 16th Street. Mr. Carraro stripped most of the vegetation from the native granite terrain except for saguaro cactus. Then Mr. Carraro hired a Russian gardener named Moktachev to landscape the area surrounding the castle into cactus gardens.4 The gardens were built from 1928 to 1929 before the construction of the Castle started.

Tovrea Castle was constructed from December 1929 to January 1931 - approximately 14 months.5 Mr. Carraro planned the three story structure to be the centerpiece of the development.6 During the construction of the castle, the “Great Depression” descended upon Arizona, the United States of America and the world. Most banks closed leaving their depositors destitute; few people had money, some lost everything and developments were fortunate to be completed. Life that had once seemed to be “a great opportunity” had become “a nightmare”. Sometime near the completion of structure, Mr. Carraro put his properties up for sale to finish the castle.7 In 1931, Mr. Carraro sold the completed castle and surrounding 43 acres to Edward A. Tovrea.

Mr. Carraro would develop one more property on the 277 acre parcel. It is still standing today at 5501 E. Washington Street. It has been a gas station, church, a bar and currently it is the home of the “Castle Boutique”.8

In 1919 Illinois immigrant and Arizona businessman E.A. Tovrea moved from Bisbee, Arizona to the sparsely populated Phoenix area ¼ mile west of the Warner property9 to build and to operate the Arizona Packing Company along the Tempe Road (4601 E. Van Buren Street).10 This was nine years prior to Mr. Carraro’s purchase of “Warner Heights”.11 E.A. had immigrated to Arizona in 1883 with his wagon and mule team freighting ore and supplies between the mine in Jerome and railhead in Ash Fork along with pursuing other freighting opportunities in northern Arizona. In 1889 while E.A. was homesteading near Gila Bend, he opened his first butcher shop.12 In 1928 when Mr. Carraro bought the adjacent castle property, E.A. Tovrea’s Arizona Packing Company had over 400 employees, slaughtered 20,550 cattle, 6,583 calves, 11,298 sheep and 42,556 hogs, generated $4,752,465.72 in Sales and $249,859.04 in Net Profit.13

On February 7, 1932 E.A. Tovrea died leaving his wife Della with a “life estate” that entitled her to live in Tovrea Castle until her death.14 She kept Tovrea Castle as a winter home, moved to the Tovrea summer home in Prescott and in 1936 she married William Stuart, publisher of the newspaper “The Prescott Courier”. After William’s death in 1960, Della stayed at Tovrea Castle full time until her death in 1969. Tovrea Castle had an evaporative cooler in a basement window and two electric space heaters, one in the basement and one in the living room fireplace. The basement served as the primary living quarters and bedroom during her marriages but in her final years she slept alone on a cot in the kitchen. The home was overfilled with things that she and her husbands’ had acquired throughout their lives.15

After Della’s death, the Valley National Bank assumed control of the Tovrea Castle property until her possessions were liquidated and the lawsuit concerning her “life estate” was settled. Castle maintenance suffered during “the battle of the estates”. When the lawsuit was settled in the late 1970’s, the Philip E. Tovrea Sr. Estate trustees assumed control of the property.16

Tovrea Castle was never abandoned. Shortly after Della’s death in 1969, the caretaker, Liz Lansberry, who had been living on the property for many years, was asked to move up into Tovrea Castle. When Liz married and left in 1980, a Tovrea family member became caretaker.17

In 1980 the Tovrea family member was living in rural Arizona with his wife and four year old son. They continued to live two hours away and moved into Tovrea Castle making it their 2nd home. The castle’s deferred maintenance was the priority. The roof was repaired, Van Buren Street entrance restored, castle flag reinstated, walls repainted or touched up, new basement cooler installed, floors refinished and replaced, basement safe lever and combination reactivated, perimeter rock walls restacked, barn and grounds maintained, windows refurbished then replaced, basement restored, roads graded, flag pole and exterior lights put on timers, river rock walls vegetation removed, pyramid installed and interior kept neat and clean. The family member recruited the help of sub-caretakers, Ed “Happy” Tovrea, Danny Mores, Freddy Aneas, Warren LeSueur, Peter Jordan, Barry Stuckear, and Randy Schmidt who checked on the castle every day when the family member and his son were not at home in Phoenix. The family member believed that if dedicated individuals and groups put their energies into Tovrea Castle, it would be preserved.18

The City of Phoenix bought Tovrea Castle in 1993. The Tovrea family member continued to live in the castle and worked with Mark Lamm19 of the Phoenix Parks Department who oversaw the property for fifteen years. In the late 1990’s the City of Phoenix hired a caretaker, Bill Soderman, with the family member maintaining a presence at Tovrea Castle. In the early 2000’s Bill moved to New Mexico. After that the City of Phoenix paid for private security and Park Ranger Patrols.20

The citizens of Phoenix voted for and passed several bond issues to help purchase Tovrea Castle and grounds.21 The 1st purchase in 1993 for Tovrea Castle and the surrounding 6.65 acres were funded with a special, stand alone, bond election that passed by 80%. Over the next ten years the City of Phoenix methodically acquired the remainder of the 43 acres that had been owned by the Tovrea family for 72 years.22 Tovrea Castle was listed on the City Historic Property Registry in 1990, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 and designated a City of Phoenix “Landmark” and “Point of Pride”.23

In 2009 volunteers were reintroduced on to Tovrea Castle grounds. In partnership with the City of Phoenix, one gardener took it upon herself to organize a call for volunteers. Working three days every month, hundreds of volunteers transformed the castle grounds and cactus gardens into a respectable, well kept condition.24

In 2011 “a small group of community volunteers” spearheaded by the “one gardener” and other Tovrea Castle volunteer gardeners25 formed an IRS sanctioned non-profit corporation “to partner with the City of Phoenix to preserve, maintain and restore the historic structures, gardens and grounds comprising Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights and to provide access to visitors”. Tours started in March 2012. Go online to www.tovreacastletours.com or call 602-256-3221.26

When you get a chance to visit, one can’t help noticing the enthusiasm of the volunteers that continue to put their passion into helping keep this dream alive.


  1. Perry Ambrose Tovrea, Phone interview, May, 2012
  2. Mortgage, 3 April 1928, Mortgage Book 215, Pages 84-85, Official Records of Maricopa County Recorder
  3. Two Generations In The Southwest, William A. Evans, Sims Printing Company, Phoenix, AZ, 1971, p. 93
  4. An Historic Building Analysis of the TOVREA CASTLE Phoenix, Arizona by Ryden Architects September 1993
  5. A History and Interpretive Plan for Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Gardens, Jason H. Gart, Public History Center, Mesa, AZ
  6. Ibid; Ryden Architects, September, 1993
  7. Marie Carraro Cunningham, Conversation, April, 2012
  8. Leo Carraro, interview by Patrick Moore, page 69
  9. Dr. Frank Olvey, various interviews, 2011
  10. Ibid; Perry Tovrea, May, 2012
  11. Ibid; Ryden Architects, September, 1993
  12. Ibid; Tovrea, May, 2012
  13. Tovrea Packing Company, Consolidated Financial Statement as of December 31, 1932
  14. R. Deryl Edwards, Jr., Phone Interview, May, 2012
  15. Ibid; Ryden Architects, September 1993
  16. Deena Armstrong, Phone interview, May, 2012
  17. Ibid; Tovrea, May, 2012
  18. Ibid; Tovrea, May, 2012
  19. Judy Tovrea Foster, Phone conversation, May, 2012
  20. Mark Lamm, Phone interview, May, 2012
  21. Marilyn Tovrea Edwards, Phone conversation, May, 2012
  22. Phoebe Tovrea Lipari, Phone conversation, May, 2012
  23. Ibid; Lamm, May, 2012
  24. Ibid; Tovrea, May, 2012
  25. Ibid; Tovrea, May, 2012
  26. Tovrea Castle Tours web site