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Top Ten: Castles

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ~Henry David Thoreau

I bet you thought there weren’t any castles in the American Southwest!

1. Camelback Castle, Phoenix – This 7,000 square foot private residence looks just like a real medieval castle complete with cut stone crenellated walls and round towers. It was modeled after an old Moorish fortress in Spain that the builder remembered seeing in a movie when he was a child. The castle was constructed over a twelve year period in the 1960’s-70’s by an orthodontist named Dr. Mort Copenhaver, and many people still call it Copenhaver Castle. The massive structure blends into the mountainside because the 30-inch stone blocks used in the exterior walls came from the site, which required blasting during excavation. On the outside there is a drawbridge, a moat, two garages, two carports, and a helicopter pad. Inside, the castle has twenty rooms on eight levels including five bedrooms, 7½ bathrooms, four fireplaces, and a separate guest/servants’ quarters. The great room is dominated by a hot tub that seats twenty people, and a sunken fireplace with a seventeen foot waterfall that cascades above the fireplace. The ceiling has a retractable roof for views of the famous Arizona blue sky, or a wonderful view of the stars. There is a library, billiard/game room, and exercise room/sauna. A 700 sq. ft. dungeon and wet bar can be accessed through a secret passageway. The stair railings came from the old Fox Theatre, a historic downtown landmark that was demolished years ago. Arched windows, door facings and a fountain are from a castle in Europe. Ten wrought iron balconies bolted to the rock walls provide panoramic views of the Valley, from one of the highest residential lots in Phoenix. The property was purchased in 1989 by Jerry Mitchell, a millionaire from Texas who helped develop the original Rawhide Western Town on Pinnacle Peak and Scottsdale Road in the 1970’s. He refurnished the interior in western style and renamed it Camelback Castle. Look for this famous landmark on the south side of Camelback Mountain near the neck of the camel; the address is 5050 E. Red Rock Drive. (As of 5/22/2009 it’s up for sale – a great buy at only $3,900,000.)

2. Mystery Castle, Phoenix – When Boyce Luther Gulley, a Seattle businessman, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1930, he left his wife and young daughter and went to the Arizona desert to spend the last years of his life. While living at the base of South Mountain, he built an 18-room mansion out of native stone and adobe. It’s an early example of organic architecture, with Southwestern artifacts incorporated into the structure. Three stories tall, it contains a mish-mash of recycled materials and found objects including automobile parts, telephone poles, etc. The castle has parapets, turrets, a tower, 13 fireplaces, a chapel, cantina, dungeon, and a variety of interesting furnishings. Some walls are actually made of boulders as well as rocks with real petroglyphs. Gulley worked on the house until his death in 1945, after which his teenage daughter, Mary Lou, learned about her unique inheritance and moved in. As the story goes, when the girl was little she had asked her dad if he would build her a castle. Thus, the unusual home is known as the “Castle that Love Built.” Parts of the castle remain unfinished, and electricity and plumbing weren’t added until 1992. The Mystery Castle is listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register. It’s located at 800 E. Mineral Road in Phoenix, about 2 miles south of Baseline Rd., just east of 7th St. Call 602-268-1581 for tour info.

3. Tovrea Castle, Phoenix – Tovrea Castle was constructed about 80 years ago by Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro as a grand hotel, built atop a hill and intended as the centerpiece of an upscale housing development. Hundreds of cacti were transplanted to adorn the landscape surrounding the building along with 2,600 truckloads of river stones, which were whitewashed and used for retaining walls, terraces, and edging for roads and trails. Mr. Carraro’s dreams were ended by the stock market crash of 1929, and he sold the castle to Edward Tovrea, a businessman who owned a meat packing plant on adjoining acreage. The castle was lived in by the Tovreas until Mrs. Tovreas’ death in 1969. The house was opened to the public only once, for one weekend in 1984. In 1993, the City of Phoenix bought the castle along with 40 acres, and is planning to restore the castle for use as a visitor center.

4. Carraro Castle, Yarnell – Near the Shrine of St. Joseph in Yarnell are the remains of the Alessio Carraro home. The designer/builder of Tovrea Castle in Phoenix, he lived in Yarnell from 1957 to 1964, where he constructed his own personal castle. The place is also called Noah’s Ark, because there are lots of large boulders that look like animals here. As you climb the path to the “Top of the World” you will encounter this fantasy land of rocks, named by Carraro after the animal shapes they resembled. The site is private property now, but the owner has been known to give visitors tours.

5. Montezuma Castle – Early settlers thought this imposing structure built into a towering limestone cliff in Central Arizona must have been related to the ancient Aztec emperor Montezuma. However, this “castle” was abandoned almost a century before Montezuma was born. The twenty-room five-story cliff dwelling was actually built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the area along Beaver Creek. It’s one of the best preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings in North America.

6. Winsor Castle – Built by Mormon pioneers in the 1870’s, Winsor Castle was a fortified structure built directly over Pipe Spring on the Arizona Strip. The complex was the headquarters of a tithing ranch operated by the Mormon Church to provide cattle and dairy products to workers building the Saint George Temple in Utah. Rangers and volunteers lead tours of the Winsor Castle fort at Pipe Spring, every half hour throughout the day.

7. Prescott Armory – The fortress-like building on East Gurley St. in downtown Prescott is an old National Guard Armory from 1939. It was deeded it over to the City of Prescott in 1980. Now it is officially the Grace Sparkes Activity Center, presided over by the Department of Parks and Recreation, which also has its headquarters in the structure. Structurally, the building is made of reinforced concrete with a stone facing that gives it a massive appearance. The stone consists of ashlar granite, rhyolitic tuff, and Coconino sandstone.

8. Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon – There is a castle-like tower perched on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The Watchtower is 67 foot feet high and 30 feet in diameter at the base. It was designed and built in 1933 by Mary Colter, an employee of the Fred Harvey Company and architect of many well known buildings in the Grand Canyon vicinity. The four-story tower was designed to provide outstanding views of the surrounding area. It was modeled after prehistoric towers in the Southwest and constructed of natural stone found in the area. Weathered faces were left untouched to give the tower an ancient look. The bottom floor of the tower contains a gift shop while the upper floors serve as observation decks. Desert View Watchtower was designated a United States National Historic Landmark on May 28, 1987.

9. Sibley Mansion, Copper Creek – If you walk up the creek from the old mining town, you can see the remains of Sibley Mansion. It was a three-story structure built around 1908 by E. Roy Sibley, manager of the Copper Creek Mine. He and his family lived in the castle-like home, which once contained 20 rooms and polished oak floors. The mines closed in 1917, and soon after all buildings were abandoned. The mansion was vacated around 1922, and most of it has since collapsed.

10. Castles N’ Coasters, Phoenix – There is an amusement park and miniature golf course adjacent to Metro Center Mall that has a big white castle as its focal point. Inside the castle is a huge arcade of vintage and otherwise hard-to-find video and pinball machines (including the original cinematic Dragon’s Lair featuring a castle and a princess) that may provide hours of enjoyment if you’re fond of old arcade games. Castles N’ Coasters also offers a King and Queen Birthday Package. But unfortunately this family fun park is way past its prime; it’s rather tacky and dirty, and no longer situated in the best part of town. Be careful and don’t go there at night, as the place seems to be a favorite hangout of gang members and juvenile delinquents. On a related note, Castle Golf on State Route 69 in Prescott Valley, which prominently featured a large stone castle, was a commercial family fun park that closed its doors on 10/27/04 after 12 years of operation.

Honorable Mention: Castle Hot Springs

The place called Castle Hot Springs was originally named Castle Creek after the surrounding mountain peaks that resembled old castle walls. American Indians had used the natural spas there for centuries. Castle Hot Springs functioned as the first territorial winter capital of Arizona. In the 1880’s it was a sanitarium. The Castle Hot Springs Resort was opened in 1896, serving 30 guests at a time. The arduous five-hour stagecoach ride on the dirt road leading to the resort was not much different from the present route to the site. This 207-acre property with year-round natural hot springs was Arizona’s first luxury resort, once considered to be one of the premier resorts in the United States. It served as a private getaway for some of America’s wealthiest and most prominent families including the Wrigleys, Rockefellers, and Carnegies. United States Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Hoover also stayed there. The property was the first in Arizona to receive a telephone line, and the telephone number was “1.” Closed during World War II because of rationing and food shortages, the site was leased by the military for the recuperation of troops. John F. Kennedy spent three months at the property recovering from combat injuries. This special service earned Castle Hot Springs an exemption to the flag rule, allowing the American flag to be flown 24 hours a day on nearby Salvation Peak. Today the flag is maintained by the Boy Scouts.

Castle Hot Springs had the distinction of being open for more than three-quarters of a century. After fire in 1976 destroyed the main building, the property and its remaining cottages were donated to Arizona State University, which used it as a conference center until selling it in 1987. In 1996, fire destroyed a cottage once owned by the Wrigley family. The remaining structures on the property include two buildings, each with two stories. One is an administration building and the other is a guest house. The old resort property really is an oasis in the desert with rows of palm trees, a nicely mowed grass lawn, and natural swimming pool. A caretaker maintains the grounds and ensures that the public does not trespass. After being neglected all these years, Castle Hot Springs has suddenly become an attractive investment because of its proximity to Lake Pleasant. While its turn-of-the-century buildings and its place in the history of Arizona tourism make Castle Hot Springs eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, its owners have deliberately kept it off that list in order to keep all the options open for prospective buyers, even if it means complete demolition. So you’d better see it while you can: to get there, take I-17 north to Exit 223 and go west on SR 74 about 13 miles. Just past mile marker 19, turn north on Castle Hot Springs Road and go about 36 miles, first north past Lake Pleasant, then curving northwest. Once you pass Castle Hot Springs, you can continue southwest toward Morristown and back to SR 74. About 30 miles of the route is unpaved; it’s mostly in good shape, but several stretches cross sandy creek beds, and some other areas are rough, so you’ll want a four-wheel-drive vehicle for this trip.

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