Forestiere Underground Gardens


Useful Information

Location: Near Fresno. Hwy 99 turn east on Shaw Avenue.
Open: MAR Wed-Sun 10-15.
APR to OCT Wed-Sun 10-16.
NOV Wed-Sun 10-15.
Open on Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Closed on Thanksgiving.
[2018]
Fee: Adults USD 17, Children (5-17) USD 8, Children (0-4) free, Students USD 15, Seniors (60+) USD 15, Mitlitary USD 15.
Groups (15+): group discount available, reservation required.
[2018]
Classification: ExplainCave House
Light: natural, electric.
Dimension: 50 rooms.
Guided tours: D=60min.
Photography: Photography for personal use allowed, filming or recording not allowed.
Accessibility: The tour requires 60 minutes gentle walking and standing, there are 20 stairs. Wheelchair accessible with restrictions.
Bibliography: Silvio Manno (2006): The Forestiere Underground Gardens: A Pictorial Journey, Ionian Publications; 1st edition (2006), Paperback, ISBN-10: 0974491160, ISBN-13: 978-0974491165.
Address: Forestiere Underground Gardens, 5021 W. Shaw Avenue, Fresno, CA 93722, Tel: +1-559-271-0734. E-mail: contact
Group reservations: E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1905 Baldassare Forestiere moved from Boston to Fresno, California.
1946 Baldassare Forestiere died.
1954 opened to the public.

Description

This cave house was built by Baldassare Forestiere, a Sicilian immigrant. He was born in Sicily in 1879, emmigrated to the USA around the turn of the century and first lived in Boston and worked for the subway. But his dream was to grow citrus, and when he heard about the San Joaquin Valley he came to this place. Until today almost half of California's agriculture is produced in the San Joaquin Valley. He bought 28ha (70 acres) of land and planned to make an orchard. Unfortunately the land was not suitable for his plan and the soil went hard in the hot San Joaquin Valley sun. There was a thick layer of hardpan, a mixture of clay and sand that’s difficult to grow plants in.

The temperatures in Fresno of up to 50°C during summer were too hot to live above ground. So he used the knowledge he had as an ex-worker of the Boston subway, and started to build a house underground. First he dug a small room undergrond and moved he bed underground, so he could sleep at cooler temperatures. Then he extended his cave house and piece by piece moved every part of his life underground. In the next 17 years he excavated 50 rooms by adding room after room. At last his house extended over four hectares and contained a library, a chapel, and a glass-bottomed aquarium with a viewing room underneath. He used his own labour and recycled materials that were easily available to him. Every room has an opening in the ceiling for light and fresh air. The ceilings are often quite low, as he was 1.67m (5'6") and the rooms were just high enough for him. Long visitors sometimes have difficulties and must duck a lot.

For 40 years he lived in his cave house, worked on neighbouring farms and expanded his home- He planted a fruit tree under many openings, where it would be watered by the rain. The others could be closed by windows during the rare rainfalls. The layer of hardpan protects his home from the rainfalls, but in the ground below the trees grew so well they extend sometimes two or three floors above ground. There is a sufficient source of humidity and protection so the trees grow much better than normal. Some trees here are over 100 years old and are still producing fruits, while citrus trees typically have a lifespan of 40-50 years.

Forestiere died in 1946 and left the site to his brother who opened it to the public. Today it is still operated as a public museum by Andre Lorraine and Ricardo Forestiere. The unique cave house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2012 the gradens were threatened by the California High Speed Rail project. The Union Pacific Rail is planning a massive retaining wall, which would partly block the entrance, and an overpass which would require a part of the grounds for the construction. The overpass would start right in front of the entrance. But the biggest threat are the vibrations from the trains which could destroy the gardens. Such problems with vibrations from trains and trucks are well known from historical buidings in Europe.