Best Castle - 2009
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.