Boyce Gulley’s architectural folly

Boyce Gulley's Mystery Castle, Phoenix, AZ

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 entryway to Mary Lou's playhouse

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.

Mary Lou's collection of curios and stuffed animals clearly illustrates her ecentricity, no doubt inherited from her father.

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.

The guest room with, perhaps, the first "hide-a-bed."

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.

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
October through May
$10.00 cash only tour fee
Free parking
800 E. Mineral Road
Phoenix, AZ 85042
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.

About © Rita Boehm

Copyright 2015 Rita Boehm. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Photographs, artwork, and/or related text are available for licensing. Contact writer for further information
This entry was posted in Arizona, history, home improvement, museums, Phoenix Arizona, photography, renovation, travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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