Alessio Carraro was an Italian immigrant who settled in San Francisco in 1906. He became a successful businessman, land developer and investor, and according to his son, Leo, was always adventurous. That may be why in 1928 he sold his San Francisco sheet metal business and moved to Phoenix. He bought 277 acres of desert between Van Buren and the Salt River, east of 40th Street, and planned to construct a luxurious resort hotel. At the time, 16th Street was the eastern boundary of Phoenix, and Van Buren was the only road to Tempe. Alessio believed that the hotel would attract the development of homes and businesses, allowing the city’s boundaries to expand.
Alessio and Leo originally constructed the castle to be a resort hotel, but instead it became the home of Ed and Della Tovrea.
Without blueprints, Alessio, his son and a crew started work on the hotel. It took the shape of a three-tiered castle, complete with metal- covered parapets and battlements, and topped by a metal covered dome.
It was built of lath and stucco, (the lath walls are visible behind the Carraros in the photograph) and river rock was hauled from the Salt River bed at 40th Street to be used for walls, landscaping, fountains and pools. A forest of saguaros and 300 species of cacti and other desert vegetation were planted around the hotel to create a spectacular garden.
Many of the materials used inside the castle were recycled. The maple flooring came from a recently demolished Phoenix home, mahogany and oak kitchen cabinets were salvaged from the Phoenix National Bank and a vault from the bank was transformed into the castle’s wine cellar.
After all the planting and construction was completed, Alessio lived in the hotel for only six months. Shortly after he moved in, Ed Tovrea, owner of the nearby Tovrea Packing Co., purchased 40 acres adjacent to the hotel and began building sheep pens. The.smelly sheep, coupled with the first stages of the Depression, made Alessio realize his idea for a resort hotel and a housing development was not viable.
He sold the hotel and gardens to Ed and Della Tovrea in 1931 for $21,500; and the hotel became the Tovreas’ home.
After the sale, Alessio and his son worked as miners in the Huachuca Mountains for a time. Alessio later became a successful “water witcher” and was hired to find wells in Arizona and California. He retired at age 75, moved to Yarnell and spent his remaining years building trails and rock walls for his own pleasure. The Desert View Lookout on Yarnell Hill was one of his projects. Leo opened the Liberty Buffet at 19th St. and Van Buren and spent the rest of his working years in the hotel business.
After Ed Tovrea purchased the castle, he lived in it for only a year before dying in 1932. Della Tovrea later remarried and used the home when she and her husband, William Stuart, publisher of the Prescott Courier, came to Phoenix. Stuart died in 1960, and his wife returned to the castle and lived there until her death in 1969.
Over the years, Della made improvements to the castle’s grounds. She put in a reflecting pool, planted a rose garden, constructed a massive patio with a fire pit, built an aviary for her bird collection, and installed electric lights and concrete urns throughout the property.
Della also brought in peacocks to roam the grounds. Della died at the age of 80, two months after being badly beaten by burglars who had broken into the castle and made off with $50,000 in cash, silver and jewels.
In 1993 Phoenix purchased the landmark castle and about 7.5 acres of the surrounding land in an effort to restore the castle and gardens.
Since then, the city has purchased additional acreage, and in 2001, voters approved a bond issue that allowed the city to purchase the remaining land and continue restoration efforts. In 2003, Phoenix purchased an additional 15.6 acres, and former Phoenix Mayor John Driggs was appointed to manage fund raising efforts for the restoration project.
After a $15 million restoration process, the basement and first floor of the facility opened for public tours March 10.
— Arizona Capitol Times. Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society, Tucson.