There is literally nothing mysterious about the home built in the 1930’s on the north side of South Mountain in Phoenix. It’s more of a curiosity than a castle. It’s the result of a man’s ingenuity at pulling together items from the nearby city dump, and cementing them together with a mortar composed of calcium and goat milk to build an 18 room house, three stories high.
The mystery behind the structure lies in the man, Boyce Gulley, who built it. Why he deliberately deserted his wife and daughter in Seattle, WA, and moved to Arizona to build this curious piece of architecture is the real puzzle. The original Pollyannaish story smooths over this fact with a seemingly justifiable diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1929; a time when the prescription to this disease was a dry, warm climate.
Consider the daughter, a three year old toddler in 1930, growing up without a father, never knowing him, never knowing of his whereabouts, or if he was dead or alive, then suddenly receiving news at the age of 19 from a lawyer in Phoenix that she inherited a large home in Arizona, built by the hand of her father who’d recently died.
Whether his decision was based on his disease, or more personal reasons, the term for total abandonment of a child is more justifiably referred to as neglect.
So, he may have had his daughter, Mary Lou, in mind as he slopped each stone with his homemade mortar, and meticulously set it in place, but that is a weak substitution for fatherhood.
Mary Lou and her mother eventually moved into this architectural folly, and in 1948, shortly after an article in Life Magazine, opened their living quarters to the public. Tours at the time included the chapel area; complete with an organ, the cantina, living room and kitchen. Mary Lou allowed weddings in the chapel up until 2005, five years before she died of natural causes at the age of 84.
As modern subdivisions slowly invaded the neighborhood of the Mystery Castle, fear mounted over it’s inevitable destruction, so the City of Phoenix, in order to preserve the structure, designated it as a Phoenix Point of Pride.Open: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. October through May $10.00 cash only tour fee Free parking Coordinates: 33.3566054°N 112.0620275°W Address: 800 E. Mineral Road Phoenix, AZ 85042 Directions: Take 7th Street south. About 2 miles south of Baseline Rd. turn east (left) on Mineral Rd. The road dead ends in the parking lot Architectural Follies in America My Mystery Castle Mary Lou Gulley’s own story, now a collector’s item.