Did You Know: Mystery Castle Was A Place Built For A Princess

November 01, 2013

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
The second level outdoor patio area of Mystery Castle.

It is about 80 years old and sits on the foothills of South Mountain Park. It is said to have been built for a princess. Does it sound mysterious? It could be.

When Boyce Gulley was stricken with tuberculosis in the late 1920s he moved from Seattle to Arizona by himself. He lived in the Valley for 15 years, and in that time he built a house against South Mountain at the end of 7th Street.

Did You Know the house called Mystery Castle was inspired by the daughter he left behind?

"Her name was Mary Lou Gulley. She was his princess because they use to build sand castles together," said Rita Dunham, a castle tour guide.

She has been telling this story for more than 30 years.

“Boyce would promise, 'Someday I’m gonna build you a real castle you can live in,'' but it was unfortunate. Boyce found out he had tuberculosis, he just left," Dunham explained "He didn’t tell them he was sick. He didn’t tell them anything. They just never saw him again.”

Gulley left his wife and daughter Mary Lou when she was three years old. After his death in 1945, Mary Lou and her mother moved from Seattle to claim their inheritance. When the 19-year-old arrived in Phoenix and saw the house for the first time, she knew it was the castle her father had promised to build.

“This is the library. Now you’ll notice that the support pillars are quite substantial," Dunham said.

In fact the entire building is substantial. It is 8,000 square feet and three levels with 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces. The entire place is made of cement, rocks, adobe, glass, and all types of recycled materials. 

“This is what the builder did best. He recycled things. Refrigerator dishes, their lids became building blocks and windows," Dunham said. "He recycled just about everything except cement.”

At the front of the house on the lower level is an entertainment area with a bar. On the floor is a locked door to a dungeon, but Dunham would not let me see it, how mysterious! In the rear of the house is a room with an unusual name because of what is propped up just inside the doorway.

“You’ll understand why this is called the cactus room, this is a Saguaro cactus skeleton. It was judged to be around 240 years old struck by lightning," said Dunham.

And the oddities continue. On the second level there is an outdoor patio. Off to the side sits a structure that looks like a well, but when you peek inside you can see that is it is not a well at all, it is a dumbwaiter used to transport cocktails from the bar directly below. The castle did not have running water or electricity until the 1990s.

“You would not have wanted to ask Mary Lou, ‘Why do you live in the Castle?’" First of all she’d say, ‘Well, my daddy built it for me.’ And the second thing she would say, ‘Why would I want to live down there in a cookie cutter house?'" explained Dunham. 

Tourists started visiting the house after it was featured in a 1948 "Life" magazine article. Mary Lou charged a fee to those who wanted to see it. She died in 2010 at the age of 85.

I bet you are still wondering, how did this building get its name? Well, Dunham said it was because of the magazine article that was titled in part, “Life Visits a Mystery Castle.”