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Phoenix Architecture

Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa (602) 955-6600
2400 E Missouri Ave
The famous Arizona Biltmore Resort is located just north of the Camelback Corridor in Phoenix. Often mistakenly credited to Wright himself, the Biltmore was actually designed by his colleague, Albert Chase McArthur. Nonetheless, the Wright influence is strong, and the hotel certainly is one of Phoenix’s architectural highlights.
If you visit the hotel, be certain to look up the hill to another well-known landmark in Phoenix, the Wrigley Mansion (2501 E Telawa Trail), the former home of the chewing gum magnate.

Burton Barr Central Library (602) 262-4636
1221 N Central Ave
On Central Avenue, the most significant contemporary architecture in downtown Phoenix is undoubtedly the Burton Barr Central Library designed by Will Bruder. The copper exterior is perfectly suited for Arizona, one of the world’s leading copper-producing areas.  Glass walls, mirrors, and skylights create magical lighting effects within the Crystal Canyon, a five-story glass atrium. The largest reading room in North America is located on the top floor and is covered by a cable-suspended steel ceiling.

Taliesin West (480) 860-2700
12621 Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard
Frank Lloyd Wright literally created Taliesin West “out of the desert.” He and his apprentices gathered rocks from the desert floor and sand from the washes to build this great desert masterpiece.

From the beginning, this remarkable set of buildings astounded architectural critics with its beauty and unusual form. Situated on 600 acres of rugged Sonoran desert at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, Taliesin West is now a National Historic Landmark. Visitors to Taliesin West will not see a museum, but rather a remarkably vital and active community of students and architects working together to maintain Wright’s vision. Today 70 people live, work and study at Taliesin West.

Taliesin (pronounced TALLY EHSSEN) literally means “shining brow” in Welsh, the nationality of Wright’s ancestors. Taliesin in Wisconsin sits on the “brow” of a hill overlooking the valley below while Taliesin West is located on a broad mesa. Taliesin West was selected by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as one of 17 buildings nation-wide that exemplify Wright’s contribution to American architecture.

In 1987, at Taliesin West’s 50th anniversary, the U.S. House of Representatives recognized the complex as “the highest achievement in American artistic and architectural expression.” Wright was drawn to Arizona as early as 1927 when he was asked to collaborate on designs for the Arizona Biltmore. In 1937, Wright bought several hundred acres of raw, rugged desert at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains and, with his architectural apprentices, began construction of Taliesin West.

At age 70, when most men would have given strong consideration to retirement, Wright went on to stage one of the most remarkable professional comebacks of the century. In his seven decade career, he designed more than 1,100 works; nearly one-third of his entire output of work occurred during the last decade of his life, much of which was spent in Arizona.

Taliesin West as conceived by Wright was a bold new architectural concept for desert living – “a look over the rim of the world,” in the architect’s own words. It served as Wright’s winter home until his death in 1959. Taliesin West is notable because of its unusual forms, its rough rocky surface and its innovative uses of material such as textiles and plastics. Taliesin West was literally built of the desert. Wright scooped up rocks from the desert floor and sand from the washes to build a great desert sculpture.

“We devised a light canvas-covered redwood framework resting upon massive stone masonry that belonged to the mountain slopes all around,” Wright said about Taliesin West. Hundreds of cords of stone, carloads of cement, carloads of redwood and acres of stout white canvas went into the construction of the complex.

“Our new desert camp belonged to the Arizona desert as though it had stood there during creation,” Wright said. Taliesin West is entered by crossing a graveled courtyard with views of a vine-covered pergola and colorful sculptures. Shallow steps lead to the sunset terrace with a 240 degree panoramic vista of distant mountains and the surrounding desert landscape. Turning from this view, the dominant theme of Taliesin West comes to view with stone and concrete walls, white translucent roofs and connecting horizontal parapets, all as a backdrop to lawn, pool and gardens in the foreground.

Taliesin West includes the Cabaret Theater for films, the Pavilion theater for performing arts, a drafting studio, Wright’s former architectural office and living quarters, dining room and kitchen, the little Kiva theater, pools, terraces, gardens, a workshop and residences for the apprentices and staff of the school of architecture. The Garden Room, or living room, with its dramatic canted roof is the central showpiece of Taliesin West. Experimental desert residences, built by apprentices, dot the 600 acre desert landscape surrounding the complex.

Taliesin West is the international headquarters for The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

St. Marys Basilica (602) 252-7651
3rd and Monroe St.
Built in 1881, St. Marys is the oldest Catholic parish in Phoenix. This Roman Catholic basilica is noted for its carillon tower and lovely stained-glass windows.

Tovrea Castle (602) 262-6412
5041 E. Van Buren St.
Built in the early 1900s by cattle baron Edward Tovrea, this structure sits atop a hill like a giant tiered wedding cake. Now owned by the city of Phoenix, the castle and grounds are currently under renovation and not open to the public.

Had it not been for a man and his sheep, the Castle – now known as Tovrea Castle – just might have been counted among the area’s stately winter resort hotels. Italian immigrant and San Francisco businessman Alessio Carraro had hoped to develop a prestigious resort when he purchased 277 aces of rugged desert land east of Phoenix in 1928. He saw great potential in the property, which offered beautiful mountain views and fronted the main route from the city to what was once the popular Papago Saguaro National Monument. Carraro’s plan for the land was to build a hotel and use it as the center piece of a first-class residential development that would be called “Carraro Heights.” The hotel, he figured, would provide him a steady flow of potential home buyers.

The hotel, which took the shape of a three-tier castle, was built without any specific plans. Two granite knolls were leveled with dynamite and a third was blasted open to form the bed for the basement. Much of the granite was crushed and made into concrete blocks for the foundation. The building was framed with wood and covered with stucco sheathing. Inside, Carraro went for many recycled materials. The maple flooring throughout the hotel came from a house in Phoenix that was being razed. The kitchen cabinets were made from mahogany and oak salvaged from the Phoenix National Bank, which was being remodeled. And, a vault from the bank was turned into a basement wine cellar.

Outside, Carraro had developed a spacious desert garden, filled with more than 300 varieties of desert plants.

The hotel was just about finished as the 1930 Christmas season approached. Carraro celebrated by installing 1,000 red, green, yellow and blue lights on the split-rail fence that surrounded the property and topping the arched gateway with a 10-foot electric tree. The display won The Arizona Republic’s holiday decorations contest and the newspaper called the entry a “brilliantly lighted castle in the desert.” It was the first time the building was publicly referred to as a castle, a label that would last to this day. Carraro’s dream of a resort hotel and a subdivision of fine homes ended a few months later. For some time, Carraro had tried unsuccessfully to buy 40 acres adjacent to his land that would serve as an important buffer between his property and a stockyard and meat packing plant. When the acreage finally was sold, it went not to Carraro, but to the owner of the nearby packing company E. A. Tovrea.

Tovrea promptly put up sheep pens on the land. That was it for Carraro, who figured few people would be interested in buying a nice home next to a flock of sheep. In June, 1931, Carraro accepted an offer from a real estate agent for the hotel and much of the property. Unknown to him was that the buyer was Della Tovrea, the wife of the packing company owner. Would it have made any difference had he known the name of the buyer? No one knows.

The Tovreas turned the hotel into their home and moved in before the end of the year. The following year, E. A. died. Della later married William Stuart, publisher of the Prescott Courier, and they lived in the home until his death in 1960. Della stayed on until her death in 1969.

Today, the interior of the castle is virtually as Carraro constructed it. It appears to be marred only by areas of deterioration from water damage, vandalism and, in some cases, the removal of small items such as door handles. The exterior, too, is generally intact, but suffers from years of neglect. Most of the window sashes have been replaced with single pane reflective glass and two additional layers of stucco surfacing have been applied to the original walls.

For nearly 70 years now, the grand Tovrea Castle has stood out among the community’s historical and architectural wonders. Thousands have admired it from afar, awed by the imposing picture it forms atop a small desert hill in the heart of an urban setting. Few, however, have been beyond its fenced surroundings and permitted inside its granite walls.

The city of Phoenix, which acquired the landmark and some of its adjacent property in 1993, is hoping to change that with an exciting plan to open the three-tiered castle and the sprawling Carraro Cactus Gardens that surround it to the public. The ambitious plan, developed by the city’s Historic Preservation Office and Parks, Recreation and Library Department, includes three key elements – the purchase of as much of the 43-acre compound as possible, the restoration of the castle and the redevelopment of the gardens.

The Carraro Cactus Gardens
It was a Russian gardener who first suggested to Alessio Carraro that his plans for a resort hotel and the “Carraro Heights” development of fine homes would be greatly enhanced if they included an extensive desert garden. Carraro found the idea appealing and he promptly hired the gardener, Mokta, to make it happen.

Soon, the 10-acre garden was filled with more than 300 varieties of cacti and other desert vegetation. Mokta made name plates for the different types, and staked them throughout the gardens. A “welcome” sign was placed at the entrance to the property and crowds of curious Valley residents and tourists flocked to see the display.

To add more interest to his popular attraction, Carraro designed walkways throughout the gardens and installed two concrete-lined fish ponds to attract wildlife. He even added a unique lawn game, a cross between miniature golf and pocket billiards in which players would stand atop a lawn table and try to putt golf balls into one of six holes.

Della Tovrea, who purchased the property from Carraro in 1931, and her husband, E. A. Tovrea, made some improvements to the grounds after they transformed the hotel into their home. She put in a large reflecting pool, built an aviary for a bird collection, planted a rose garden, constructed a concrete patio with a central fire pit for cool winter evenings, and installed electric lights and concrete urns throughout. She also brought in peacocks and allowed them to roam free, saying they made excellent sentries.

Today, most of the original exotic imported cactus species are gone, the victim of drought, bacterial infection and lack of maintenance. However, more than 530 large saguaros and an assortment of barrel, organ and other types of cactus remain. And, many of the other garden features appear to have held up well, although most show signs of having weathered over the years. The development plan will bring the sprawling garden back to life through the re-establishment of the historic plant species and the restoration of the extensive landscape features. Self-guided tours, continually changing exhibits and a variety of enrichment programs and workshops are planned. And, perhaps, even a peacock or two.