It’s one of the most unique and enigmatic buildings in the Valley, spotted by hundreds of thousands of people during their daily commutes. But only a select number have actually seen inside.
Tovrea Castle, the wedding cake-shaped tiered structure perched atop a small hill near Van Buren and 52nd streets in east Phoenix, is an iconic landmark that’s viewable from the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway. It’s been a regal part of the local landscape for more than 90 years and is generally off-limits to visitors unless you’re lucky enough to score a ticket for one of its public tours.
If you’ve ever wanted to see inside the castle, now’s your chance. The Tovrea Castle Society, which oversees and maintains the property, is holding a ticket lottery for tours happening this fall.
Society president Tamera Zivic tells Phoenix New Times they’re accepting entries from now until Wednesday, June 30, for the lottery, which will sell 20,000 tickets for public tours taking place every weekend from September through December. And the competition is fierce.
“Because of the pandemic, we had fewer tickets available — like maybe a quarter of what we’re selling [for the fall]. The demand was huge and things sold rather briskly,” Zivic says. “We do get people from around the globe who are visiting Arizona and want to see some of our landmarks or historic sites, but primarily it's local people who are entering the lottery.”
What’s the attraction? Zivic says there’s a certain mystery to the building, which only opened to the public within the last decade. Originally built in 1929 by Italian immigrant, gold miner, and entrepreneur Alessio Carraro (who originally intended it to become a hotel), it was sold to meat-packing magnate Edward Tovrea in the 1930s and became a home for his widow, Della, after his death a few years later.
The city of Phoenix purchased Tovrea Castle and the surrounding property in 1993 and eventually refurbished the historic building. The society formed in 2011 and began holding tours a year later to help support the castle’s upkeep.
“So there’s a lot of history behind the castle and people are just curious about it,” Zivic says. “People who've lived here for a very long time want to know more about it, like ‘What the heck is that thing out there? What’s inside?’ Other people around the world have heard about and are quite interested in it also. But it's mainly locals of all ages who've just seen it their whole life and want to know what's going on there.”
Zivic says tickets typically sell out in less than 10 minutes whenever they’ve been offered to the public. As a result, the society decided in 2020 to hold a lottery instead “in order to make things more fair.”
Zivic says it's due to issues with the fire code (there aren’t sufficient exits upstairs, for instance) and also to cap the number of tours and visitors each year because of occupancy limits and to preserve the castle.
“We could be doing tours 24/7 because of demand, but we don’t want to take this historic site that the city of Phoenix refurbished and run it into the ground with lots of people going through it,” she says. “We make sure that everybody gets a great tour and gets to see a lot when they’re here.”
And if you’d like to be one of the lucky few to see Tovrea Castle this fall, here’s what involved with the lottery: Entries will be accepted via the society’s website until June 30. In addition to providing your name, email, and other personal and contact info, you’ll be asked to select three possible tour dates on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday between September and December and how many tickets (for up to four people) you’d like to purchase.
In early July, Zivic says a computer will randomly select winners, who will then be contacted by email with their tour date and time over the following weeks. You’ll have 72 hours to purchase tickets, which are $22 per person. (Kids 2 and under are free with a paid adult admission.)
Tickets can only be purchased by those 18 or over and only one entry will be allowed per person.
If any winners fail to respond in time or are unable to purchase tickets, another lottery entrant will be selected and contacted.
“If things don’t work out, we reach out to the next people in line for that date and time to see if they're interested in tour tickets,” she says. “So even if you’re not contacted right away, don’t lose hope. There’s always a chance. It does take a little time to finalize who’s getting the tickets.”
If necessary, ticketholders can also cancel with 72 hours' notice, which Zivic says has happened with previous tours.
“People put in for a certain date and time and then realize, ‘Oh gosh, I have a chance to go on a last-minute cruise of a lifetime,' or they end up having to work that day. Whatever the reason, they're not able to take the tour that they were offered, so after they cancel, we’ll try finding someone else. It isn’t hard. So many people are interested.”