PHOENIX (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) -- The myths and mystery about Tovrea Castle, which some call "the wedding cake castle," are many.

Located on Van Buren Street and surrounded by saguaros, the Arizona landmark is the source of countless urban legends. Some believe Al Capone lived there. Others say there are tunnels to the state Capitol. There's a fortune hidden inside. It's the site of a murder.

Tovrea Castle

[WATCH: Truths of Phoenix's Tovrea Castle are even stranger than the myths]

Work on Tovrea Castle began in 1928, the heyday of the gangster era. It was the dream of Alessio Carraro, an immigrant from Italy. Carraro wanted to make a desert resort surrounded by a spectacular garden. 

But Carraro sold out to Edward Tovrea, and his wife, Della.

[WHAT'S IN A NAME: Tovrea Castle]

Della and Edward Tovrea

Della and Edward Tovrea

"One of the great stories is that there was a murder in the castle," said Roger Lidman of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. "Della Tovrea was the person living here. Legend goes that she was murdered in the castle."

Like most urban legends, there's a nugget of fact at the heart of the mystery.

"There was a break-in," Lidman continued. "The two men that broke into the castle actually were armed, and in a struggle, a shot was fired, but there was not a murder. She was tied up and eventually able to escape."

Bullet hole in the kitchen of Tovrea Castle

"The two men that broke into the castle actually were armed, and in a struggle, a shot was fired ...."

The bullet hole was preserved in the kitchen.

Police believe part of what drew the robbers here was rumors about a safe they thought might have been full of money and treasure.

"There was a bank that was being remodeled in downtown Phoenix," Lidman explained. "And he [Tovrea] was able to repurpose some of the teller cages into kitchen cabinets. And the vault -- a beautiful metal vault -- was installed in the basement of the castle."

Bank vault in the basement of Tovrea Castle

There was no fabulous treasure. The robbers were later caught in California. And that's the closest Tovrea Castle ever came to being a gangster hangout. 

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What about the secret tunnels? Again, there's a kernel of truth.

"There is a tunnel in the basement that you would've been able to look at and see the state Capitol before the city of Phoenix built up and the skyline obscured the view," Lidman said.

Tunnel at Tovrea Castle

"There is a tunnel in the basement that you would've been able to look at and see the state Capitol ...."

That fact got spun into the myth that there was an underground passageway from Tovrea to the state Capitol.

There is something of a treasure in the basement – a crazy stucco ceiling. The artisan who created this had skill and a sense of humor. Hunt around and you'll spot hidden nests of birds' eggs in a couple of places.

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

"One of the things I think lends to the mystery of the site is for so many years, people have been aware that the City has been working to acquire the property, to restore the castle, and they haven't been able to get in the doors," Lidman said. "They see it on the freeway. They see it when they take the light rail. They see it when they're flying in and out of Sky Harbor. They drive by it every day, and it's there."

Now you can get a peek inside. Limited tours are happening on select days of the week. You also can look around outside where restoration work continues on the fantastic garden, thanks to the volunteers of the Tovrea Carraro Society.

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"I love seeing cactus bloom; I think the flowers are beautiful," said Eileen Marrero of the Tovrea Carraro Society. "I love seeing the plants here grow."

"It's very romantic, just being on the property," said J. David Smith, also of the Tovrea Carraro Society. "And once you get inside the castle, your mind just goes crazy. I imagine the different parties. I understand the Tovreas – Della, in particular -- threw some parties. And I sometimes stand in the castle and I wonder what those must've been like."

"Working with the plants and being here on the property is very therapeutic," Marrero said. "I find it to be very peaceful."

There are more stories spinning in and out of Tovrea than we have time to tell.

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One we'll leave you with is the bell.

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

Volunteers say they believe Della Tovrea may have rung it at mealtime, and that the bell came from a train that carried ore in one of Arizona's copper mines.

"One of the reasons we're really excited about getting the site open is that there are a lot of urban legends about Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights," Lidman said. "I think that the stories that we're gonna tell, and correct some of those urban legends and myths, are every bit, if not more, interesting."

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights
Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.



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