Explore The Forestiere Underground Gardens In Fresno, CA

Did you know that one of the top five things on our list of fun things to do in Fresno is a registered historical landmark? In this episode of Fresno Redefined, we’re going to visit the Forestiere Underground Gardens, a unique California landmark that you have to see. We’ll learn about its history and explore the flora of this architectural wonder.

An Immigrant’s Dream

The Forestiere Underground Gardens is on the National Register of Historic Places and is California State Historical Landmark No. 916. I've lived in Fresno for over 34 years and somehow, I've never been to this place before today. Don't judge me; out of sight, out of mind! 

I'm also surprised this place even exists. I don't know if you know this about our area, but we have some serious hardpan here. Despite this, Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere somehow managed to use it to his advantage to sculpt an entire underground garden up to 22 feet below ground level. 

Forestiere used the hardpan for the structure and style of his creation, which took him 40 years to build with hand tools alone—now that's persistence. He designed and hand-sculpted the garden in the early 1900s, creating a unique underground retreat to escape the San Joaquin Valley’s excessive heat. After nearly 40 years, he succeeded in creating a cool subterranean complex fashioned after the “visions stored in his mind.”

Exploring The Gardens

Baldassare Forestiere died in 1946 at the age of 67. After his death, the Underground Gardens were open to the public as a museum. Located on Shaw Avenue in Northwest Fresno, a short distance east of Highway 99, this complex of underground caverns, grottoes, patios, and garden courts also served as Forestiere’s home.

The Underground Garden is so intriguing, with its sections that are interconnected with underground passageways and promenades. The passageways are embellished with planters of various shapes and sizes, and recessed seats of hardpan, mortar, and cement. Columns, arches, and domes are also made out of hardpan, a native sedimentary stone that is pervasive in the area. 

I love the skylights; they’re covered in the winter with glass to keep out the rain, while still allowing natural light in. There are so many varieties of trees in here, and many of them are rare. The coolest thing about this place is that you can see a citrus tree with seven different varieties of citrus on one tree.

Continuing The Legacy

Forestiere’s ingenuity is incredible. I loved seeing his little bedrooms, including one for summer and one for winter. He painted on the wall, giving him the feeling of being in a forest. Forestiere passed away at the age of 67 after having a hernia and surgery; he, unfortunately, caught pneumonia and died from it. His brother continued his legacy, building the ballroom in Forestier’s honor.

Visiting the Forestiere Underground Gardens is something really cool to do in Fresno that, honestly, most residents have probably never done. While I thought it was going to be a typical tourist trap, the level of artistry that went into it is amazing. It’s definitely something you’ll want to check out.

For more information, check out the Forestiere Underground Gardens website. If you have any questions about the local area or buying and selling a home, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to connect. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Fresno Redefined. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!

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