Tug-of-war for historical Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- There's a tug-of-war for a piece of Fresno history, a family fight involving Forestiere Underground Gardens. It's a fight over elder abuse, money, and the gardens that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The trouble started when the family matriarch passed away a couple years ago. Since then, the dispute over who controls the gardens and who should profit from it has grown louder until it resulted in two lawsuits.

Baldasare Forestiere's masterpiece is a public jewel. For 40 years, he carved the tunnels and crossed the vines and trees to achieve the perfect mix of light and dark, fruit and flowers, all in a much more temperate climate than the Central Valley typically provides. Decades after Baldasare's death, Ric Forestiere is in charge of what amounts to a museum filled with his uncle's artwork. But according to court filings. Ric's son wants a piece of the pie. Andre Forestiere helped his mother and father run the gardens for years. But by the time Lorraine Forestiere died in September 2012, his father had taken full control.

"Andre's in a position where he files a lawsuit where he says 'Hey, my family's cutting me out and I want my share,'" said legal analyst Ralph Torres.

Andre claims his father and five siblings conspired to make sure he got no part of the gardens. As Lorraine's health declined, Andre says his father used fear and confusion to convince her to sign the property over to him, leaving her with only a Northwest Fresno house in exchange. But in a countersuit, Ric Forestiere says Andre was just a freeloader in his mother's house. In fact, he says Andre took such terrible care of his mother, a couple siblings had to wear hazmat suits to go inside and clean up after them.

"What they're saying is 'Andre, you don't have any rights because look what you did to mom. Essentially, you put her in an early grave,'" Torres said.

Torres says disputes like this are common in families with property and multiple children, but it shouldn't hurt the tourist destination -- at least as long as Baldasare's nephew is still alive. When he dies, it'll be up to the children to work it out.

Action News reached out to all the family members or their attorneys, but got no comment. A judge already dismissed some of the claims by Andre Forestiere, including accusations of financial elder abuse by his father. But the family members are due back in court next month to work towards a resolution on the rest.

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