It just might be one of most interesting and well-kept secrets of the Central Valley and understandably so.
If one doesn’t look close enough, they can easily blow by Forestiere Underground Gardens along West Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Located just a handful of blocks from Highway 99 the “underground” is so much more than a “garden” as the name indicates.
Upon entering the front gate it’s easy for the first-time visitor to wonder what exactly they are in for. The simplicity of the above ground setting is indeed misleading as to what lies beneath the ground level.
Once below ground, however, it becomes completely clear that the visitor has embarked on something quite unique.
Forestiere Underground Gardens – at 5021 W. Shaw Ave., Fresno – was both the vision and creation of Baldassare Forestiere, an Italian immigrant who first came to the United States in 1901. Arriving through Boston, the immigrant learned the East Coast climate was a bit too cold for his liking and made his way west three years later to join his brother Anthony in Fresno.
In 1905, with big plans of owning a citrus farm, Forestiere purchased 80 acres of land in Fresno for $1 an acre. Sadly, he quickly learned the hardpan soil which was just below the surface was not conducive to citrus trees.
Not fond of the Valley summer heat and making the most of an unfortunate situation, the landowner tapped into his previous knowledge of subway digging and began to dig a cellar retreat instead.
A simple idea in seek of coolness, became a lifelong task which eventually resulted in excavation of 10 acres underground. This consisted of two levels, going as deep as 22 feet below ground level, 50 subterranean rooms and passageways.
All of this was done during his spare time and by himself, as Forestiere worked as a laborer digging ditches and leveling land for landowners by day. In the evening he would cool off in the cellar, which became his home.
The underground home includes: two bedrooms, a kitchen, living area, two fireplaces, a chapel garden, aquarium, an 800-foot tunnel and numerous other points of interest.
Coming to the U.S. as an immigrant with no formal education, his desire for cooler temps eventually became a passion and vision for something greater. It is reported that he dreamed of creating an underground resort where visitors could come to escape the heat of a Fresno summer, just as he had.
Yet it didn’t stop there; Forestiere quickly discovered that the soil underground was ideal for the citrus trees and plants he had once envisioned occupying his acreage. Trees and vines of multiple varieties are planted throughout the underground habitat reaching up to the ground level through sculpted skylights which also aid with creating a cool breeze through his home.
Baldassare Forestiere passed in 1946 at the age of 67. He had spent 40 years solely working on his vision using nothing but a pick, shovel, digging bar and wheelbarrow. He also later used the historic Fresno scraper with the help of his donkeys, Dolly and Molly. The scraper was cutting edge earth-moving technology for its time.
Forestiere Underground Gardens is still owned and maintained by the family, now occupying five acres underground out of the original 80-acre plot Forestiere purchased. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1977 and is also a California Historical Landmark.
One-hour tours are offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Reservations are highly recommended. Reservations and additional information can be found at www.undergroundgardens.com
http://www.undergroundgardens.comor by calling 559-271-0734.