Best Of :: People & Places
Like so many things in Phoenix, Tovrea Castle isn't what it appears to be at all. This peculiar, turreted house, built in 1928 in what was then literally the middle of nowhere at 50th Street and Van Buren, looks more like an attraction at a miniature golf course than a building inspired by the homes of Italian noblemen. Seen from eastbound Loop 202, Tovrea (pronounced Toe-vree) is a flag-topped, dome-roofed faux castle in the middle of the Southwest desert, a kitschy reminder that Phoenix was once even weirder than it is today, and a testimony to the fact that the city's inability to finish anything isn't a new trend.
The castle and its surrounding Carraro Cactus Garden were built by Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro, a San Franciscan who'd hatched a plan to create his own resort town on 277 acres of creosoted desert just east of the Phoenix city limits. He intended to build a resort castle surrounded by dense acres of vegetation, and between 1928 and 1930, he and a crew of two dozen workers overhauled the barren landscape into a colossal cactus garden, designed by a Russian gardener named Moktachev and wrapped around a magnificent wedding cake of a house meant to be the crowning jewel of a privately owned housing development that never came to be.
Instead, we're left with a pretend castle, five separate gardens, various outbuildings, and some goofball water features that — because the City of Phoenix purchased the castle and the 36 acres of land surrounding it in 1993 — local Tovrea fans and tourists alike can enjoy during the castle's twice-monthly garden tours. Every penny of the $15 admission price goes toward upkeep of the recently restored castle and grounds, which you can see for yourself by reserving a spot on its next tour on the castle's Web site.
Though nobody knows her real name, "Cake Lady," as downtowners have affectionately dubbed her, continues to contribute to central Phoenix lore. In short, there's a woman about town who occasionally shows up at gatherings (a music performance, an art exhibit) looking for free stuff, especially cake. The consensus is that she reads New Times (a smart woman, indeed) and then calls ahead to inquire about the possibility of free goodies. She's been spotted only a couple of times, including years ago at a birthday party at the now-defunct Paper Heart, where she briefly showed up, then dashed out the door with a bunch of cake to go. Hey, Cake Lady, share some next time!
Yes, you're reading that right. No, we're not heat-addled.
Summer in Phoenix rules.
We first noticed this seeming contraction one day several years ago when all the traffic on Indian School Road dried up. Poof! It was like a scene from I Am Legend or Vanilla Sky. And it made us ponder the other positives of a season in which temps can hit the 120s in the shade and you can get a third-degree burn on your butt just by getting in your car.
The sunsets. The storms. The long light of evenings. The short lines at our favorite hangs. The full-moon hikes. The abundant parking at Piestewa Peak. The pool parties. The misters. The cheap resort rates. The free Sunday-afternoon films at the Phoenix Art Museum.
More than specific pleasures, though, our late-blooming appreciation of Phoenix summer has to do with the sense of inclusion we feel from Memorial Day through late September. For 120-odd days, it's our town — not the fifth-largest city in America. It feels like a community.
It's hot, but it's home.
It was weird, right? This year, summer didn't really start 'til July. Sure, we had a hot day here and there, but any true Phoenician knows to brace for the heat starting in, oh, March. Not so in 2009, and June was particularly balmy. If you don't believe us, check out the stats: We haven't had this many days under 100 in the month of June (only 13!) since 1927. Which only made July the cruelest month — when, as if on cue, the temperature soared.
Here at New Times, we know maps. We've spent countless hours trying to assemble them for our own various purposes. That's why we have such an appreciation for the Small Wonders map, published by Local First Arizona, designed to promote local businesses in both central/downtown Phoenix and Tempe. Consider this our thank you note for the labor of love it took to create these fold-out, easy-to-use, eye-pleasing guides to our favorite stuff in the city. It was surely no small feat to produce them.
Depending on whom you ask, the year-old Metro light rail may or may not be the most over-hyped project in Phoenix history. But no matter what you think of the billion-dollar (and counting!) project, you have to admit the view of the Phoenix skyline from the bridge going over Tempe Town Lake is pretty amazing, especially at dusk. From the confines of the always overpacked or nearly empty train car, you get a glimpse of Phoenix at its best. The downtown towers reach ever higher, their steady ascent seemingly fueled by the mysterious desert waters around you, but they never quite catch their backdrop, South Mountain. As the copper-colored star fades into the purplish haze of an Arizona sunset, even the most curmudgeonly rail-hater has to be impressed by the beautiful scene framed through the windows of this ambitious transportation project.