Hidden Adventures: Forestiere Underground Gardens, Fresno's hidden oasis

Friday, July 26, 2019
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Looking to beat the Fresno heat, a citrus farmer began digging rooms underground - and built something incredible.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A pair of signs along Shaw Avenue welcomes visitors to a hidden oasis.

"I think it is very deceiving when you drive up, and it doesn't look like much. But as soon as you head down the steps, it is phenomenal that (someone) a hundred years ago envisioned all of that and built all of that," says Greg Gent from Orlando.

Greg is in the middle of a California trip with his father, Mike. They are visiting from Florida.

Yosemite and Sequoia are at the top of their list of destinations, but a pit stop in Fresno had them searching for the Forestiere Underground Gardens.

"The description was so intriguing that it was hard to visualize what it would really look like, but it surpassed all expectations. It really is a wonderful place. I recommend it to anybody," says Mike Gent.

After walking through rows of citrus trees and grapevines above-ground you start to go underground, down into what was the home of Baldassare Forestiere.

After moving to Fresno in 1906 to work as a citrus farmer, Forestiere quickly learned of the Central Valley's extreme heat.

He carved out a cave on his property to use as a place to cool off, but that was just the beginning.

"He started to think, if he could sleep where it is a little bit cooler, maybe I could bring my kitchen down here, and I could cook where it is a little bit cooler too. So he moved all of his stuff down underground and started living underground," says tour manager Cami Cipollar.

In addition to a bedroom and kitchen, you'll find a bathroom, courtyards, a chapel, and even a grand ballroom. You'll notice the low ceilings and arches in some of the caves.

Forestiere was 5 feet, 6 inches tall. Anyone taller than that will need to duck down a few times on the tour.

But no matter what your height is, you will notice the cooler conditions.

Throughout the tour of the Forestiere Underground Gardens, you will find temperature gauges showing the temperature above ground and below ground.

Most areas are 10 feet below ground with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

Forestiere planned to use the land to grow citrus trees but learned that a hardpan layer of soil would prevent that.

With his knowledge and experience of building subway tunnels in Boston, Forestiere knew he could use that hardpan as walls for caves.

It would take him 40 years to carve out 10 acres with a pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow.

Forestiere kept digging until his death in 1946, and parts of the Underground Gardens are unfinished.

A car tunnel was one of his final projects.

"That's always a fascinating thing for a lot of our guests to be able to use their imagination to visualize where he was going with what he was doing," said Cipolla.

Forestiere never used blueprints or drawings to map out his vision for the Underground Gardens, but his work is putting Fresno on the map.

The Underground Gardens had 39,000 visitors last year, and each year they attract new visitors who are from the Central Valley.

"I'm always at Costco and in this area. I live in this area, and so I have always seen it but never have attended," said Cachet White from Fresno.

Tours of the Underground Gardens are available Wednesday through Monday during the summer. Prices are $19 for adults and $9 for children.

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