Written by: Leverne Brown
Forestiere Underground Gardens-Mystery, History, and Creativity
Last week I discovered a mystery spot filled with intrigue, history, and creativity right in the city of Fresno. Located off of Hwy 99/Golden State is a California Historical Landmark that’s hidden among a citrus grove with wild flowers, and grapevines.
Forestiere Underground Gardens is certainly a sight to behold. It’s a large labyrinth of underground rooms, tunnels, gardens and fruit trees. As my tour guide Rhanda simply described, “you will feel like Indiana Jones today, but if you’re not careful, you can get lost!”
Once inside, I found the underground area to be quiet and peaceful, but as Rhanda lead us down the first flight of stairs, I could feel the suspense. I was hooked, intrigued, and wanted to know more.
We quietly walked through each passageway, and I could hear the whispers from some of the kids saying, “wow! This is so neat… Hey, I wonder what’s on the other side of the tunnel?”
The first tunnel lead us to a courtyard with exotic fruits such as kumquats and loquats. Lemon and orange trees were growing as well. I even got to see what carob looks like while growing!
During my time in the courtyard I noticed something that I would have never imagined in my lifetime. The grapefruit, oranges, and lemons were all growing on same tree! How genius is that?
Baldasare Forestiere-The Visionary Before His Time
To understand the concept of this unusual masterpiece, one must learn who its creator was. Baldassare Forestiere was a visionary with ideas that were way before his time. He kept to himself, never married, nor had any children, but he had others in mind when carving out his creation.
Baldassare was a young Sicilian that arrived in America during the early 1900s. His original plan was to build a citrus empire, but that plan folded once he discovered the 80 acres of land he purchased was useless. Instead of sulking, Baldassare persevered. In 1906 he began hand carving underground rooms to escape the tremendous heat waves of Fresno, CA. After he finished a few rooms, he decided to test his citrus trees underground. To his amazement the trees started to bloom!
Baldassare soon realized that he could actually live underground.
Rhanda lead us to the small kitchen he carved for himself. The ancient stove was amazing! His cookware was designed to keep his stews very hot throughout the wintery nights, and the table folded inside of the wall when not in use! The walls of the kitchen had small cubby holes to store everything he needed to cook with. I don’t think Baldasare went without anything that was necessary to enjoy life.
As we continued the tour, we were lead to his summer and winter bedrooms. Baldassare loved his privacy and moments of relaxation. In fact, his rooms were designed in a way that he could see who was coming, but those who were coming couldn’t see him!
Our tour ended at the Chapel Garden. The chapel is small, but he managed to carve a sitting area, and hung a bell above for the feel of a real chapel. In 1956 a couple became so in enamored by the chapel, that it served as a venue for their wedding ceremony!
The End of Baldassare’s Dream
Life was good for Baldassare. He enjoyed his quiet life underground, but the ideas that consumed him wouldn’t allow him to sit still for long. He constructed a plan to build a subterranean resort adorned with delicious fruit trees, and vines that would grow beneath. Baldassare became a one man crew with a few farming tools; picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and a scraper pulled by two mules. Over time he carved well over 10 acres. Unfortunately he died at the young age of 67, and that was the end of his “underground resort” idea.
Forestiere Underground Gardens-A Place for the World to See!
111 years later, Forestiere Underground Gardens remains a “one of a kind” gem in the city of Fresno. By visiting, guests will gain a special insight into Fresno’s history.
“The Underground Gardens is a beautiful example of taking the lemons that life hands you and making limoncello…Our lives don’t always turn out the way we imagined, but often there is a reason. If we are persistent, we can make something more beautiful out of life than we would ever have imagined.”
–Shera Rodrick, Tour Services Manager, Forestiere Underground Gardens
Each year the Underground Gardens hosts visitors from all over the world. Just in March 2017, the visitor’s registry recorded visitors from Argentina, Finland, Turkey, China, Australia, and many other countries.
Forestiere Underground Gardens is an open air museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is California Registered Historical Landmark No. 916. In order to preserve the character of the grounds, guided tours are only offered between the months of March through November.