The Mystery Castle of South Mountain

    Chatty has been to a Mystery Castle. Yes! The “castle” part is obvious once you take a look – it’s built of stone and love; but you’ll have to keep reading to get to the “mystery” part.

    There once lived a man, an archictect who was a friend and colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright. Chatty believes that Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most brilliant architects ever. 

    So Chatty was fascinated to see the castle his colleague built.

    Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Boyce Luther Gulley was an individual in every sense of the word. He lived with his wife and little girl in Seattle, but when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis he left Seattle and his family to go to Phoenix, where the air was better.

    His daughter had always cried when the castles she built in the sand were washed away, so he promised her that one day he would build her a castle that would stand forever.

    This he did, but it took him fifteen years, and she didn’t find out about it until he died.  He built her castle at the base of South Mountain outside of Phoenix, hewn from stone and garnished with cast-off things nobody else wanted. It is a miracle of the imagination.

    He died in 1945, before he could send for his wife and daughter, but the castle stood, a monument to his ingenuity. His wife and daughter were notified about his death, and here’s where the mystery part comes in.

    Mrs. Gulley and her daughter moved into the castle, which was considered unusual enough for “Life” Magazine to do a story about it in 1948. “Life” dubbed it the “Mystery Castle” because Mr. Gulley had stated in his Will that nobody was to open the secret door until three years after his death. “Life” photographers were there when Mrs. Gulley opened the door in the floor of one of the rooms, which lead to an abandoned mine shaft – the door that Mr. Gulley had requested she not open until three years after his death. In the shaft they found a small room, and in the small room they found a small box, and in that small box were the love letters and Valentines he had saved, the deed to the castle and two $500 bills. Not a big mystery, perhaps, but a sweet one.

    Mother and daughter lived in the castle until Mrs. Gulley’s death, and the daughter lives there still. There have been several stories written about it since 1948 – the most recent one in the October 2007 issue of Arizona Highways. A documentary about the castle won an Emmy award in 1999.

    But first and foremost it is, and always will be, the castle a father built for his little girl.

    Chatty’s pictures cannot begin to capture the magic that is contained within this castle’s walls, but she hopes these pictures will give you some idea of its quirky magnificence. In this castle in the sand humor abounds, whimsicality rules, and creativity runs rampant.

The castle is on three levels, one of which is completely underground.


It has turrets,


and a staircase that is rather…unusual, but quite functional and safe.

This is a corner of the underground bar, with a warning to those
tempted to over-indulge. There are also bunk beds in the bar, 
for those who imbibe a bit too freely.

Here is a view of distant downtown Phoenix and an outdoor fireplace
on the castle’s second level.


The window grill is made from one of the wheels of Mr. Gulley’s Stutz Bearcat.
Waste not, want not!

A wagon wheel sits above a balcony outside a room on the castle’s third level.

    Isn’t it wonderful that freethinkers and pioneers continue to grace this planet?

    All hail those with imagination! May we always acknowledge those of us who dream a dream and then labor to make that dream come true!

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About merseamersea

setter of cryptic crosswords, designer of jewelry, paper and card maker, editor, quilter, embroiderer, cook, avid mystery reader and occasional writer. Find me on Facebook as Maggie-beth Rees Rasor.
This entry was posted in Arizona, History, photos. Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to The Mystery Castle of South Mountain

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    I love the whimsy of castles in unexpected places. This makes me think of the dreamed of castle in The Glass Castle.

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