Mystery Castle Tour

December 20, 2015
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Mystery Castle Tour in Phoenix, Arizona
A quirky, innovative house in south Phoenix, a castle promised to a daughter

Boyce Luther Gully and his daughter Mary Lou built sand castles on the beach in Seattle in the 1920s. When sand washed the castles away, Mary Lou asked her father to someday build her a strong castle she could live in. When Gully was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929, he left his wife and young daughter and came to Arizona. He acquired land in the south of Phoenix in the foothills of South Mountain and began building that castle. The rambling house was made mostly of recycled materials – salvaged items auto parts, junk, and other artifacts he found.

Gully did not die of tuberculosis as expected and lived for fifteen more years, during which time he continued to work on the house with occasional assistance from itinerant workers. He died of cancer in 1945. Mary Lou inherited the house and she and her mother moved to Arizona.

Mystery Castle interior images

Living room
(portrait of Boyce in library area,
portrait of Mary Lou above fireplace surrounded by rocks with painted-on cats)

Mystery Castle is an 8,000 square foot, 3 story structure with 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces. It is filled with items collected by Boyce and his daughter. There are several patio areas.

Mystery Castle Tour - tile and stone work

Sampling of tile and stone work on patio areas

Mystery Castle kitchen

Kitchen

Using salvaged materials did not stop Gully from including a number of innovations in his house. He didn’t like the idea of bending down to use the oven. He took the stove apart to create an eye-level oven. He used an inverted wash basin to create one of the first range hoods. The kitchen had two sinks – one to stand at, one to sit at. There was no running water or electricity in the house when he built it, but he anticipated both being available in the future. The kitchen floor included a drain to easily hose down the stone floor. Pipes were built into the ceilings for future electricity. The castle, however, did not get running water or electricity until the 1990s. By that time the pipes were too old and not up to current code. They could not be used for running electricity.

Mystery Castle bedroom

Gully’s bedroom – bed given to him by the Arizona governor,
headboard designed to resemble a steam locomotive

Mystery Castle saguaro furniture

Some of the furniture in the guest suite is made from saguaro trunks

Mystery Castle Tour

Structure built as play house for Mary Lou,
but Mary Lou was an adult before she saw it.
She used the upstairs bedroom, bottom section housed caretaker.

Mystery Castle chapel

Chapel where Mary Lou and her mother hosted weddings

Mystery Castle shoe collection

It was said if the bride left a shoe behind,
her husband would be true. Some brides left both shoes.

Mystery Castle kitchen corner window

Corner window in kitchen

Mystery Castle sits at a slightly higher elevation than Phoenix and offers great views of the Phoenix valley below. Gully built a corner window in the kitchen to take advantage of that view. The patios face toward the valley as well.

Mystery Castle view of Phoenix

View of Phoenix

Mystery Castle got its name when Life magazine did a feature on Mary Lou, the house, and her inheritance in 1948. The article was titled Life Visits a Mystery Castle.” After that, visitors would show up on her doorstep at all hours to see the house. In an effort to discourage them, Mary Lou and her mother posted a sign saying there was a charge for tours. They kept coming. Mary Lou quit her job in the city and supported herself by giving tours of her home until her death in 2010.

Although it would have been interesting to have Mary Lou give me the tour herself, my tour guides did a great job. They had history with the castle and with Mary Lou, and lots of stories to tell. The woman who did the upstairs tour had been giving tours for 30 years, working with Mary Lou. The woman who did the lower level tour was younger and had spent much time during her childhood at the castle. Her uncle had been the caretaker.

Mystery Castle portraits of the Gullys

Paintings of Mary Lou and Boyce

Mystery Castle

Assorted images from Mystery Castle

 

Mystery Castle

Mystery Castle is open for tours 11am to 4pm Thursdays through Sunday from October to May, except for major holidays. In 2015, the fee was $10 for an adult. Guided tours are continuous and circular. You can join in at any time. When you’ve worked your way back to the starting point, you are free to wander around and explore on your own. Note that it is not wheelchair accessible and walkways are uneven. There are steep steps in places. The only toilet facility is a porta-potty in the parking lot.

Mystery Castle may not be a castle or much of a mystery anymore, but it is full of interesting details and fascinating stories. It makes for a fun visit.

PIN ITMystery Castle Tour, Phoenix Arizona - a quirky, innovative house with an unusual history #Phoenix #Arizona #castle #quirky #housetour

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  • Reply
    jacquiegum
    December 20, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Wow, I think this pretty much is the very definition of the word quirky! But so interesting and such a testament of a father’s love for his daughter. I think that’s the best part!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Jacquie, it’s also a bit quirky that he built this house for her, but never went back to Seattle to see her.

  • Reply
    Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go
    December 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

    I love these types of houses with all their eccentricities that reflect the utterly unique personalities who designed and built them. Obviously Boyce Gully loved his daughter very much and it seems that Mary Lou thrived in Phoenix in her castle. Her portrait shows a woman with style and a sense of humor and she’s a person I would have loved to meet. Great post, Donna! Anita

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 21, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Anita. I too think it would have been fun to meet Mary Lou.

  • Reply
    Catarina Alexon
    December 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Interesting place, but I have to say, not to my taste. The person creating it had a lot of imagination though. Having said that he got his inspiration from European “hippie intellectuals” who thrive on decorating their houses that way and have done for a long time. So it wasn’t an original idea:-)

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Catarina, I’m not sure it is to my taste either, although there were several spots that felt quite comfortable. It was interesting to see the materials he used and the use he made of them.

  • Reply
    Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com
    December 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    That is so cool and interesting. I could have spent hours wandering through there I’m sure. Looks like there is much to look at. Its funny that the dad loved away when he thought he was dying and left the girl, but then spent all that time building her a castle. I bet there is some interesting back story there. 🙂

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Susan, there certainly was a lot to look at. I suspect there is more than one interesting backstory.

  • Reply
    Phoenicia
    December 21, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    What a sad story. Did he want his wife and daughter to remember him the way he was? 15 years is a long time to be separated from your family.

    I find the castle a little bit creepy.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Phoenicia, I really don’t know why he never saw his wife and daughter again. And yes, that is sad. I didn’t find the castle creepy, but it might have felt that way if I was alone there in the evening.

  • Reply
    Sabrina Quairoli
    December 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    What an interesting castle! Thanks for sharing. The patio area photos are so detailed. I wonder how long it took to make them.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Sabrina, I believe he worked on the house for all of the 15 years he lived there, although I don’t know how long any one are took. The tile work, glass and mosaics on the patios are quite detailed.

  • Reply
    A Taste for Travel
    December 21, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    What a strange place to discover in Arizona and an unusual but touching tribute to family love and dedication. I love that portrait of Mary Lou above the fireplace

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Michele, the paintings and photos of Mary Lou in the house made me wish I’d had a chance to meet her.

  • Reply
    carolcolborn
    December 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    We are in Phoenix a lot but have not visited this Castle! Thanks for giving us the armchair tour. Hopefully, I find the time to see it in person though. One thing I cannot understand: if the Castle were a testament to his love for his daughter, then why did he leave her?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Good question, Carol. I think I understand a little about why he left his wife and daughter. He expected to die soon and perhaps he didn’t want them to see that. He might also have been concerned about passing on tuberculosis to them. I have a harder time understanding why he didn’t return when the tuberculosis appeared to be healed. Perhaps he was still concerned about being contagious. Sometimes the longer one stays away, the harder it is to return. Perhaps, there is some completely other reason.

  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    December 21, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    The idea of building a castle out of salvaged materials is really interesting. Also not that common to see a castle built in a desert. Must be a fascinating place.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Ken, you’d probably find it quite interesting to see what materials were used and how.

  • Reply
    heraldmarty
    December 22, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Fascinating Donna! I’ve never heard of the Mystery Castle but it looks like a place that I’d really enjoy, and as always your photos add to the story. Thanks for the tour and inspiration!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:50 am

      Glad you enjoyed the tour.

  • Reply
    MoreTimeToTravel (@MoreTime2Travel)
    December 22, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Wow! What a one-of-a-kind house with a simply fascinating history~

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Irene, the history is certainly fascinating. Lots of stories in this house.

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    December 22, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    What an interesting, and quirky place. Another new thing that we had never heard about before. Hope to get to see it sometime.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      I think Mystery Castle would appeal to your love of the quirky and bizarre.

  • Reply
    Rose Mary Griffith
    December 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

    We just added this to our Phoenix area list of things to see on our next trip there. What a truly quirky building! I wonder what the family story is behind them never living together again?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm

      Rose Mary, definitely quirky. The family story is fascinating – I will have to find out more about it.

  • Reply
    William Rusho
    December 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    What a wonderful place. It is amazing you can find places like this all over the country. Even in my rural area, we have a castle not completed because his wife died before it could be finished.
    Everyone of these places has its own story that needs to be told. Thanks for telling this one.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 23, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks William. It is amazing the number of odd places with unusual stories behind their building one can find across the country. Another interesting one I visited decades ago is Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, built by the widow of gun magnate Winchester. She worked on the house for years and it has all kinds of odd additions and turns. She built staircases to nowhere and decoy rooms to confuse the spirits she believed haunted her family.

  • Reply
    Rebecca (Bex)
    December 24, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    I love this – thanks for sharing! Who’d’ve thought: a castle in the desert! I only thought castles existed in the ancient areas of Europe…it’s refreshing to read about Mystery Castle. I hope I get to visit one day. And those shoes! Heaven…

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 27, 2015 at 8:17 am

      Thanks Bex. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Reply
    Erica
    December 26, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Mystery castle has such a colorful history. Mary Lou being able to quit her job to give tours of her home is the very definition of opportunity knocking on your door. Thanks for bringing my attention to another great piece of history that I didn’t know existed.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      December 27, 2015 at 8:19 am

      Erica, a colourful history and a lot of colour in the home as well.

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