Castles are made for princesses and the Mystery Castle in Phoenix isn’t an exception. It was built in the 1930s by a father who thought he had just a short time to live as a final gift to his daughter…..his “little princess”. The Mystery Castle still sits on the slopes of South Mountain overlooking the panoramic views across the Phoenix AZ skyline.
In a whacky sort of way, the Castle has touches of architectural brilliance laced with a bit of cuckoo. Those that visit will discover an amazing feat by a reclusive man that had no construction skill but possessed strange creative vision. One look will conclude there likely was no diagrammed plan of construction, but rather a spontaneous daily vision based upon what recent pieces of discarded junk arrived at a nearby dump.
Castle of Mish-Mash
The 18-room castle is comprised of clever-use of whatever Gulley could find. Mystery Castle can be described as an early southwestern mish-mash. An eclectic structure that gives the appearance of having always been part of the desert landscape.
Native rock, artifacts, and abandoned junk from around the region make the architectural style difficult to classify. There are floating staircases of stone and many of the recycled boulders contain original hieroglyphics from ancient indigenous people.
Interestingly, the interior of the castle contains both a chapel and a tavern. The castle has 13 fireplaces spread around 18 rooms. A pump organ in the grotto once belonged to a lady named Elsie, known colorfully as the widow of Tombstone, Arizona who buried six husbands in Boot Hill.
Boyce Gulley appeared to be somewhat adept at structural engineering, but plumbing and electrical wiring were not his specialties. Consequently, the house initially lacked modern conveniences until they were subsequently added in the 1960s that replaced the bright pink outhouse known as “Pinky.” An upside-side down bathtub serves as an exhaust vent over a kitchen stove. Windows were formed with wheels of Gulley’s Stutz Bearcat. Its windshield became a glass panel on a terrace wall. He used railroad ties to create steps and stairways. Unusual pieces of stone became arches. Welded scraps of metal became both components of the structure as well as decorative elements.
Perhaps Gulley was one of the first with a “green attitude” in mind. He protected natural elements and landscapes. Getting from the parlor to a bedroom required a flight of stairs that traversed over a large boulder and down its other side so it would not disturb what nature placed there millions of years before.
Interestingly, the interior of the castle contains both a chapel and a tavern. There is a wishing well on the above patio floor. Originally, the pail from the wishing well could be lowered to the cantina with a drink returned to the patio.
Decor is comprised of fragments sculpted into new weird renditions. But somehow the whacky seemed to have a perfect place. The view had to be planned. The castle seems to stand guard high above the views of desert beauty below long before tall buildings dotted the cityscape of today.
The Story of Mystery Castle
One day in 1929, Boyce Gulley left his Seattle office to see a doctor and never returned home to his wife and daughter who was but 4 years old at that time. Diagnosed with tuberculosis and given a short time to live, Gulley simply disappeared and would never see them again.
Remembering the sand castles he built with his young daughter, Mary Lou on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean only to be washed away by the pulsing tide, Gulley set out to build her a castle that would last forever.
He mysteriously re-appeared three years later in Phoenix where the dry climate was assumed to extend the life of tuberculosis patients. He purchased a piece of land on the slopes of South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona that would become the permanent home of Mary Lou’s castle.
Although concerned he would die before finishing the castle, death fortunately eluded him for another 16 years. Ironically, Gulley died of cancer and not tuberculosis. He was able to complete the castle he had promised his daughter.
Through a lawyer, Gulley’s wife and daughter were noticed of his passing in 1945 along with reasons for his disappearing. Gulley was worried of exposing them to tuberculosis and the suffering they would endure during his illness and more specifically how his death would traumatize his daughter.
Mary Lou had become a young woman of eighteen when she first learned of her Castle of Love. She and her mother inherited the castle and made it their home later that year. Her Mother soon passed and Mary continued to live in her castle and even gave tours of the Mystery Castle until she died in 2010.
Video of Mystery Castle
Tours of Mystery Castle
As of the date of this article, the Mystery Castle is still open for tours from early October through the end of May on Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 AM to 4 PM. Get there before 3:30 for the last tour of each day. Call (602) 268-1581 for recorded messages.
Directions To The Mystery Castle
From Downtown Phoenix. Take 7th Street south across the dry Salt River. About 2 miles south of Baseline Road, turn east (left) on Mineral Road. The road dead-ends in the parking lot.
From East Valley Areas. Take Interstate 10 to Baseline Road. Drive west to 16th Street and turn left. Drive about a mile to Dobbins Road and turn right. After passing the golf course on your left you will approach 7th Street. Turn left to Mineral Road into the Mystery Castle parking lot.
Mystery Castle Map
800 East Mineral Road
Base of South Mountain
Call (602) 268-1581 (Recorded Message)