Remembering the El Cid Castle in Sunnyslope

Oct 25, 2015

El Cid Castle before its demolition.
Photo by: Tony the Marine
There is something about castles that captures the imagination. Castles are symbols of strength, able to withstand attacks from intruders and protect the occupants from harm.

Most of the world's historic castles were built in Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries, which means that Americans are not accustomed to seeing them in person.

Perhaps because of their rarity or perhaps because of their association with fairy tales and fantasy, many Americans are fascinated by castles. This led to a number of European-inspired castles being built in America in the 1800s and 1900s. One of the most well-known castles in Phoenix was the El Cid Castle in Sunnyslope.

The story of the castle begins with Dr. Kenneth Hall, a physician from Oklahoma who relocated to Phoenix in the 1940s. Dr. Hall was a big shot who unabashedly referred to himself as the "King of Sunnyslope."

By 1955 he was operating the North Mountain Hospital, which had beds for 40 patients and even had a primate zoo on the premises. He built the largest house in the area and was a well-known member of the community.

In 1963, Dr. Hall began construction of a castle-themed bowling alley at the northwest corner of 19th Avenue and Cholla Street (halfway between Cactus Road and Peoria Road). Some of the money used to build the castle was illegally diverted from Medicare funds to the tune of $16,564 (approximately $129,000 in 2015 dollars).

The El Cid Castle was a 65,000 square foot building that was made with red brick and designed to look like a Moorish Castle. Construction was slow and before the castle could be finished, Hall's personal life began to fall apart.

His physician's license was revoked in 1971 after four patients died while undergoing gastric bypass surgery. Things got worse for Hall in 1974 when he pleaded guilty to stealing Medicare funds to fund the construction of the castle.

Now bankrupt and disgraced, Kenneth Hall finally saw the El Cid Castle open its doors after 17 years of construction. Sadly, the castle closed in 1982 after just one year of operation. Hall was forced to sell the building in order to settle a malpractice suit. The self-proclaimed "King of Sunnyslope" passed away in 2001 at age 80 from heart failure.

But the story of the El Cid castle does not end there! Over the years it changed hands and operated as a furniture store, an educational facility, a church, and as a recreational sports facility known as "Castle Sports Club."

As the Castle Sports Club, the facility offered recreational sports including roller derby, soccer, hockey, indoor skating, sand volleyball and boxing. The large indoor facility was a popular spot for local teams and leagues of all types to come together and play sports.

Castle Sports Club in its better days.
Photo by: Emmanuel Lozano/AZ Republic

In 2006, the City of Phoenix gave the property a number of violations for things like exposed electrical wiring and repairing floors without a permit.

According to an Arizona Republic article from August 12, 2013, the owners of the Castle Sports Club were ready to sell the facility to their neighbors, Church For The Nations, in 2010. The city cracked down on the Castle once again, this time because a storage unit had been converted into a boxing gym without a permit. Additional violations included a gymnasium operating without a permit and the whole facility did not have a certificate of occupancy.

In the Republic article, the church says they did not know about the violations when they bought the property, but they did work with the city to try and address the issues.

It's not exactly clear what happened next, if the church could not raise the funds to make the required repairs or if the City was unwilling to grant the proper permits, but the Castle closed its doors sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

A November 3, 2014 article from KJZZ News in Phoenix reported that the vacant castle had been purchased by the Arizona Department of Economic Security, with plans to turn it into an office building.

A fence went up around the site and it was pretty clear that the castle would soon be torn down. Some friends and I decided to go there to take a few photos of the castle before it was gone forever. Upon arriving at the site, a very rude security guard told us to leave immediately. We spoke to him calmly and explained what we wanted to do, but he would hear no part of it and threatened to call the police if we didn't leave. There was just no reasoning with the guy at all, and he wasn't pleasant to deal with. I never got to take any of my own photos of the building.
Parts of the original red brick castle are still visible (at right)

What ended up happening is that part of the original castle building was preserved and incorporated into the design of the new Arizona D.E.S. offices. I suspect this may have been done for the convenience of building inspections and not necessarily to preserve the castle's heritage. Some of the castle's original red brick walls are visible in this 2015 photo (above).

Though it was originally intended as a recreational facility for the community, the El Cid Castle ended up being a source of trouble at nearly every stage of its existence. I hope this article has been helpful in telling the story of one of Sunnyslope's most unusual and interesting buildings, which is now lost to history.


David Richards said...

This is a fun article. I used to drive by the Castle each day on my way to work and wondered about the history.

Anonymous said...

I used to play roller hockey there back in college. Thanks for all of the background in the article.

Anonymous said...

When construction was halted because of the Dr's transgressions, the Castle sat half built and spookily empty with a few Big Guard Dogs for years! Making it the perfect subject for childhood stories and curiosities! In its Bowling Alley phase there was also a Restaurant/Disco! And and a couple Pinball machines! The Dr would let me and my friend (both of us girls were probably around 11!) Play for free as long as we played the one that he could watch us from his office at! He was never inappropriate, but we knew it was creepy! We didn't care... Happy with Pinball games till our hearts were content!!

Anonymous said...

Born in 1969 and raised at 19th Avenue and Bell Roads, we frequently drove by the castle and wondered if it would ever open. My family actually bowled there during the short time it was open for that and it was a great facility. Years later, I enrolled my son in indoor youth soccer so I hung out and explored the facility while it was Castle Sports Complex. You could still see the remnants of the bowling alley if you knew they were there. That was a neat place! Thanks for preserving the memories.

Anonymous said...

Went to school there in the 80s needless to say that only lasted a year and then closed down

SBoser said...

I was pretty young when construction started and as I got older and the castle grew, I would ride my bike often and try to peek inside, I'm sure I could have found a way in but I was afraid of getting in trouble. During that time, I lived a few miles west of the castle and no one I knew had any clue what the castles purpose was, just that some old crazy guy was building it. later as a young adult the castle opened as a bowling alley and my wife and I went to the grand opening, As I remember it, it was rundown when it opened and I imagine the lanes were used equipment to begin with. Our curiosity was satisfied and we left. After the close of the bowling alley I remember it became a furniture store for a short time, went back to see it once again and clearly remember the floors felt like they just put carpet on top of the lanes, as the floor would be soft and creak in various place as you walked across it. They sold poor quality stuff and appeared to be running on a low budget. But it gave us the opportunity to say good bye to what was a huge mystery to a young kid growing up in the desert.

Anonymous said...

Very cool article and photos. I played both roller derby and roller hockey in the building. The roof leaked and the swamp coolers didn't work too great in the summertime. There was a spacious upstairs area that was closed off, but I remember our roller derby league used it for storage. I always thought the building had such great potential to be so much more, especially with the extra space on the second floor. It's too bad that funds for repair and hiring experienced facility managers were lacking.

Tony Reed said...

When I move here from Tennessee I lived on cholla street for 16 years with David Alan mayerchik .the kids in the area and I would climb the mountain there on the corner of Troy and 17th Street and we would look at the castle and pray that he would be used someday to help with children and it was then we put a church in there where a friend of mine and I used to have to spend the night inside the church so that people wouldn't break in and steal our musical instruments and that castle was such a neat thing I wished it could have been saved I guess things are as they areas most of Phoenix is becoming they're tearing down all of the old homes and buildings and building these new homes large ones that the homeless cannot afford cannot even afford so they were becoming homeless I wish that somehow we could put a stop to this and start saving the homes from the past ...

Tony Reed said...

This is all true


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