Narrating history

SRP employee leads Tovrea Castle tours

If you’ve driven on the Loop 202 near East Van Buren, you’ve likely seen this four-story, wedding cake-like structure beautifully lit up at night in the desert landscape.

And if you ever visit, you might just get a guided tour by an SRP employee.

The Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights, completed in 1930, was renovated and became open to public tours in 2012, led by an all-volunteer group.

Barb Swenson, a Senior Market Research Analyst at SRP, had been looking to volunteer along with her husband, Owen, who had recently retired.

As someone who organizes focus groups at work and enjoys being around people, Swenson loves being able to channel that same energy as a volunteer.

“My husband and I always enjoyed history and travel, and we have always wanted to do docenting and tour guiding, so this just fit right in,” said Swenson, a nine-year SRP employee.

They underwent extensive training, learning facts and anecdotes about the castle’s history to share along 10 stations throughout the tour. Swenson, who grew up in a family that always volunteered in the community, considers it a “privilege.”

“There’s a lot to memorize for sure, but that’s what I love about this type of volunteering the most,” Swenson said, laughing.

If you go:
​Cost: $15 for a nearly two-hour tour
Tour details:

The historical Phoenix landmark was the brainchild of Italian immigrant and entrepreneur Alessio Carraro. Arizona cattle baron Edward Tovrea bought the castle in 1931.

“We start with the general history of Tovrea, going back to the early stages in 1907 and its role in the city of Phoenix. Then we talk about some of the water features and the history of the building and so on,” Swenson said.

Among her favorite parts of Tovrea is the original stencil work, much of which still remains after the renovation, as well as the great room upon entering, with its restored maple flooring.

Swenson also loves seeing the reaction of guests who’ve often waited six months to a year to tour the site.

“Everyone has waited so long, and they’re all so interested in the history,” Swenson said.

She also enjoys busting myths and rumors around the goings-on from years ago, like the stories about the castle being Al Capone’s hideaway in the desert.

“All the folklore, including talk about big mafia, adds to the mystery of this great piece of Arizona history,” Swenson said. “I just love being able to share it all with those curious enough to stop by.”

Tamera Zivic, President of the Tovrea Carraro Society, which runs the tours, said volunteers like Swenson are what make the experience so special.

“Their passion for Arizona’s history, the land and the castle itself come through in every way on every tour,” she said. “It is not just ‘something to do’ for the volunteers; it has become a part of their lives.”

Photos courtesy of Barbara Swenson and the Tovrea Carraro Society website.




SRP delivers high-value electricity and water for the benefit of our customers, shareholders and the communities we serve. We are a community-based nonprofit utility and the largest provider of electricity in the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving more than 1 million customers. We also are the largest provider of water to the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet annually to agricultural, urban and municipal water users.

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