Whether you’re visiting the Central Valley of California for vacation or looking for something fun to do on a day trip, one of the more unique places to visit are the Forestiere Underground Gardens.
Located in the city of Fresno on West Shaw Avenue, the Forestiere Underground Gardens were designated a California Registered Historical Landmark No. 916 in 1979, and are also listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
What is it about the Gardens that provides such a unique experience for guests from around the world?
What is it?
The Forestiere Underground Gardens are a network of underground structures built by Baldassare Forestiere, an immigrant from Sicily who arrived in the United States in the early 1900’s. After spending some time on the East Coast, Forestiere moved out to Fresno where he purchased some land on which he was planning to grow citrus trees. Unfortunately, he found the hardpan soil to be unsuitable for the citrus trees, and the weather to be brutally hot in the summer.
In an effort to escape the intense summer heat of the Central Valley, Forestiere decided to dig a small cellar, similar to wine cellars that he had seen in Italy. Thus began his lifelong work to turn his useless farmland into a hand-built network of underground rooms, courtyards, and passageways that harken back to the days of the Roman Catacombs.
Working for over 40 years using only shovels, picks, and other hand tools, Forestiere constructed 65 rooms in what became his underground home, spanning 10 acres and consisting of three levels, at 10, 20, and 23 feet in depth.
Included in the Gardens are a summer and winter bedroom, a bath, functional kitchen, fish pond, and even a parlor with a fireplace! Scattered among the stone walls and archways, Forestiere built grottoes and courtyards that admit pockets of lights, as well as skylights and catch basins for water. The massive amount of dirt that Forestiere had to move to create the Gardens he used to fill planters, create stones for walls and pathways, and to level out other parts of the land.
During his lifetime, Forestiere experimented with growing multiple varieties of fruit trees, berries, and grapevines in his subterranean home as well as some unusual varieties of trees including kumquat, loquat, carob, and dates.
The result of Baldassare Forestiere’s lifelong passion? An oasis in the heat of the Central Valley.
What to look for
Baldassere Forestiere continued working on “the Mediterranean resort of his dreams” during his spare time until his death in 1946. Today the Gardens are operated by members of his family through the Forestiere Historical Center. Guests of the Gardens can take a walking tour through its underground passageways, rooms, and courtyards.
A visit to the Forestiere Underground Gardens is just one of the unique things to do near Fresno. Take a walking or driving tour of the city’s historic districts to see some beautiful examples of Central Valley architecture, from Craftsman bungalows to Period Revival homes.