If you've ever looked around the Tucson Mountain foothills, you've probably done a double-take at Brady's Castle. Maybe you were a kid who imagined a princess lived there, or perhaps you heard rumors that it was a Taj Mahal-like tribute a millionaire built for his dying wife, and that the man moved the structure brick-by-brick from Germany.
Judging from several queries we received at email@example.com, people in town want to know the story behind the castle, which has now vanished.
Digging through the Star's crusty, dusty print archives, we discovered how it emerged from the desert like a mirage, only to fade away with little explanation.
Briggs Ackert, who currently owns the property and razed the building earlier this year, declined to say why he tore the building down or what he intends to do with the land.
Ackert's actions put an end to the castle's nearly four-decade west-side reign.
Once upon a time
The archives aren't clear on the net worth of the castle's creator, William Brady. Born in 1912 in Suffern, N.Y., he was certainly a man of means and connections.
His father was a coachman for a millionaire in New York. Brady said he would gaze with awe upon the employer's mansion and decided one day he'd live in a castle.
Half a century later, his vision would become reality: He would live in a 4,755-square foot, 11-room castle he built near West Ironwood Hill Drive and North Camino de Oeste on 22 acres of land he owned in the 1970s and early '80s.
Brady earned an engineering degree at Lafayette University in Easton, Pa., singing with big bands in New York - including those of genre legends Ben Bernie and Isham Jones - to pay his way through school. After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he earned his fortune in Florida in an undisclosed career before retiring to Tucson in 1963. Doctors advised him to seek a dry climate to soothe his arthritis.
The idea to finally forge ahead with the long-desired castle came from his wife, Barbara.
"I'd like something different," she told her husband. "How about a castle?"
And thus Wuestenschloss - German for "castle on the desert" - rose from the desert horizon in 1971. Brady put his engineering knowledge to work and drew up plans for the building, then oversaw its construction.
Hosted 'royal' wedding
Brady and his wife hosted a "royal" wedding for one of their four daughters, as well as monthly parties - often for charitable causes - frequented by the likes of Robert Goulet, Barry Newman and Henny Youngman. The revelry would often last until 4 a.m., with themed medieval music and merriment causing the whole neighborhood to jump to life.
There was a decidedly Hollywood feel about the place. Newman's TV drama, "Petrocelli," even filmed an episode at the castle.
Equipped with twin towers, a moat, drawbridge, throne room and custom-built furniture with backs that matched the curvature of the walls, the castle was imposing yet welcoming. The Bradys didn't mind when passers-by peeked through their window to watch them eat breakfast.
"This wasn't built to show off," Brady told the Star in 1976. "It was built to have fun in."
Brady built the castle with 43,000 imported bricks from Mexico - he bought them because they matched the hues of the desert on his land - and dubbed the building the "Kingdom of Wuestenschloss."
Tongue-in-imperial-cheek, Brady named himself King Wilhelm and fashioned crowns for himself and his wife to wear. The Bradys and their shindigs popped up in the Star and Tucson Citizen's society pages regularly.
"It's like living in Disneyland," Barbara told the Star.
She and William posed for a newspaper photo holding hands in the throne room, beaming at the camera with unbridled optimism and satisfaction.
"What a kick!" wrote the Star's Dorothy Gaines in 1972. "May they live happily ever after."
In 1977 - seven years after Barbara later said William had began to suffer privately from the blood disease and liver cancer that would claim his life in 1981 - the Bradys tired of the massive upkeep required by the building and land. They sought to sell it and move to an urban town house.
Oddly private for a man who lived life so publicly and cheerfully, Brady wouldn't tell reporters how much Wuestenschloss cost to build. But when the Bradys were finally ready to unload the castle, the harsh reality of its market value hit him like a cannonball through a rampart.
Brady's perspective of the castle's value was inflated by his love for the structure and its Hollywood pedigree - Brady seemed sure one of the stars who stayed as occasional houseguests would buy the property - so he put Wuestenschloss on the market for $875,000.
There were no takers after several months, so Brady resorted to an auction in October 1977. Of the 50 potential bidders who attended, only six placed bids.
The price crept up slowly as Brady looked on in horror, with local restaurateur Jim Scordato cautiously trading monetary punches with Lebanese-born Nazareth Marabak, who ran a Mexico-based hotel construction empire and wanted the castle as a gift for his wife and daughter. When Scordato pushed the bid to $290,000, Marabak uttered "Let him have it," but reconsidered a few minutes later and posted the winning bid of $295,000.
Disgusted, Brady responded: "It was a giveaway. Pure and simple."
Brady tried to back out of the sale and fought Marabak in court until he died. In 1982, Barbara sold Marabak the property.
She passed away in 1988.
Marabak never moved into the castle and sold it in 1984 to an anonymous woman who died in 1998.
A Phoenix company tried to buy the property, which became known as "Brady's Castle" and "Sunrock Castle," with the intent of re-opening it as a bed-and-breakfast, but never followed through.
From there we're left to speculate as to how and when the property came into Brigg Ackert's possession. The website www.dupontcastle.com/castles/brady.htm offers only anonymous hearsay.
No matter the future of the land, the Kingdom of Wuestenschloss is dead.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org