Portrait of Boyce Gulley found inside castle
Mystery Castle today
1948 LIFE photo of Mary Lou on winding staircase
Same staircase today, different angle
Mary Lou's bedroom as it looks today
Mystery Castle entrance
Backstory and Context
Boyce left his wife, Frances, and his toddler-daughter after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929. He moved from Seattle, Washington to Phoenix, Arizona, believing the warm, dry climate might cure him. According to Mary Lou, Boyce told them he was leaving to pursue his dream of being an artist. Although he sent occasional letters to his family, they didn't know about his illness until years later.
When Boyce arrived in Phoenix, he filed a claim on two 20-acre parcels, and started building Mary Lou's castle in early 1930. He continued working on it until his death from cancer in 1945.
Boyce Luther Gulley was an artist and a revolutionary recycler, as evidenced by Mystery Castle's design and construction. He salvaged items from the nearby local dump, including discarded metals, glass, auto parts, and assorted "junk." Old telephone poles became ceiling rafters, and various items Boyce discovered in the Southwest and Mexico are incorporated into his design. He used adobe and thousands of rocks, and the castle is held together by mortar, cement, caliche, and goat's milk.
Blackboards from an old Phoenix schoolhouse became the slate floor in the main living room, and wooden cart wheels became windows. Depression-era glass dishes form doorway transoms, and an old wooden wagon wheel is built into a wall. Boyce even used parts from his 1929 Stutz Bearcat to build Mystery Castle - the windshield became a stove vent in the kitchen, and the wheels, rims, and headlights became windows. One of the fireplaces is wagon wheel hub, and you can walk around the spokes. And actual petroglyphs are embedded in the walls.
Boyce conserved everything he could, including space, and many of the castle's features serve multiple purposes. For example, most of its roofs are also patios for the next level, and many of the pillars also double as furniture. Many cubby holes, nooks, and crannies are actually odd storage spaces.
Mary Lou lived in Mystery Castle for 65 years, giving tours until her death on November 3, 2010. The property is now maintained by the Mystery Castle Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization. The Mystery Castle has been designated as a "Phoenix Point of Pride."
The Mystery Castle is located in the Foothills of South Mountain Park (two miles south of Baseline Road) at 800 E. Mineral Road in Phoenix, Arizona 85040.