From Spanish Mission-style estates to sturdy log cabins to architectural anomalies, Arizona is home to some pretty cool houses that now operate as museums open to the public. These homes, many of which were built during the early 20th century, represent a significant time in Arizona history, when it transitioned from territory to statehood. All offer a glimpse into the lives and legacies of some of The Grand Canyon State’s most influential residents.
Need a reason to take a weekend trip this summer? Look no further than these impressive abodes.
1. Taliesin West
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is a desert oasis and textbook example of the architect’s pioneering aesthetic, with its use of raw materials, natural lighting, integrated interiors, water and greenery.
Wright purchased the 500-acre plot of land in 1937, which would eventually become the campus for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It began as a campground and a work in progress that was constructed almost entirely by Wright and his apprentices between 1937 and 1947, making it one of his most personal projects. Each year, Wright and his students would migrate from the original Taliesin campus in Wisconsin in the summer to Taliesin West for their winter session.
Drawing inspiration from the raw beauty and rugged geometry of the desert, Wright designed Taliesin West to blend in naturally with its surroundings. A patron of the arts, he also incorporated a music pavilion and cabaret theater with near-perfect acoustics and canvas-filtered lighting. One of Taliesin West’s most impressive features is its drafting studio, with a dramatic canted roof, filtered lighting and low, narrow windows with a panoramic view you can’t appreciate until you’re seated at a drafting table.
Nearly a century later, Wright’s design is still relevant as ever. The property serves as the campus for the School of Architecture at Taliesin, shaping the next generation of great architects.
Guided tours are offered throughout the week, and reservations are strongly recommended. For more information on tours and ticketing, visit www.franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west/tickets-tours.
2. Wrigley Mansion
Image courtesy of Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons
Wrigley Mansion is one of several residences built by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. The Spanish deco mansion was built between 1929 and 1931 as a 50th wedding anniversary gift for his wife Ada and is located near the Biltmore Hotel, another Wrigley property.
Perched atop a 100-foot hill, the 16,000 square foot mansion with 24 rooms and 12 bathrooms is the smallest of the Wrigley residences. It was a winter home designed for entertaining and features elaborate bedrooms with private bathrooms, a telephone room with walls lined in the same aluminum foil paper used to wrap Wrigley gum, and a remote-control Steinway piano.
Wrigley died shortly after the home’s completion in 1932 and his family continued to use it into the 1970s. Although the property has been bought and sold several times over, it’s still meticulously preserved thanks to a land deed that asserts that all original belongings inside are a part of the land itself, including the Steinway.
Today, Wrigley Mansion serves as a restaurant, bar, venue and museum with guided tours offered Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.wrigleymansion.com/tour-wrigley-mansion.
3. Riordan Mansion
Matthew, Michael and Timothy Riordan moved to Flagstaff during the 1880s to manage and eventually own the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company. The family was integral in transforming Flagstaff from a sleepy railroad camp to a booming mill town.
The Riordans became stewards for the local community, volunteering their time to numerous community endeavors that aided in the socioeconomic development of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona. They built a hospital, hotel (now the Hotel Monte Vista), churches, scientific and educational institutions, and Lake Mary, a reservoir that provides one-third of Flagstaff’s annual water.
Michael and Timothy commissioned architect Charles Whittlesey to build their family home, the Riordan Mansion, in 1904. The 13,000 square foot two-family “duplex” connected by a billiard room was built with the most modern technology and design elements of the time, including indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, electricity and central heating. The family home is a fantastic example of the Arts and Crafts style architecture and showcases all original family belongings, including Stickley furniture.
Guided tours are offered daily, and reservations are recommended. Visit www.azstateparks.com/riordan-mansion/things-to-do/tour for more information.
4. Tovrea Castle
Few places in Arizona are as shrouded in myth and mystery as the castle that’s been perched atop a hill at Van Buren and 52nd Street for nearly a century. Tovrea Castle was constructed by Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro, who moved to Arizona in 1928 and purchased 277 acres of land with dreams of building a community and resort destination.
Inspired by the castles of Italy, Carraro made the hotel the focal point—the wedding cake castle that still stands today. When the Great Depression brought his plans to a screeching halt, he sold the property to E.A. and Della Tovrea in 1931.
Many legends envelop the home’s nearly 100-year history, some true—you can see a bullet hole preserved in the kitchen ceiling from when Della fought off burglars—and some false—some believe Al Capone built Tovrea as a gambling hall, complete with secret tunnels to outrun police. The gangster has no connection to the castle.
A guided tour will take you through the castle, tunnels, gardens and outbuildings. For more information on tour dates and ticketing, visit www.tovreacastletours.com/castle-tours.
5. Knox Corbett House
The J. Knox Corbett House is a Spanish Mission Revival style two-story, stucco home completed in 1907 by architect David Holmes. The interior is a stellar example of the American Arts and Crafts movement, and an accurate representation of how wealthy merchants lived at the time. The J. Knox Corbett House also marks the beginning of Snob Hollow, a Tucson road lined with many mansions built in the early 20th century.
The home’s inception has quite an interesting backstory. Wealthy merchant Hiram Stevens and wife Petra lived next door to the existing site of the J. Knox Corbett house. When they fell into financial difficulty, Hiram killed himself after unsuccessfully firing a bullet at Petra, who was wearing a thick Spanish comb in her hair. The bullet ricocheted off of the comb, and she survived.
Petra asked her goddaughter Lizzie Hughes Corbett to care for her. She granted Lizzie and her husband J. Knox Corbett a plot of land next door, where they built the home and lived for more than 50 years. The Corbett family lived in the home until the 1960s, and the Tucson Museum of Art acquired the property during the 1970s. The J. Knox Corbett House was fully restored in 1995.
Guided tours are held Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and are included with the purchase of general admission to the Tucson Museum of Art.
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