From the surface, it looks rather unassuming and flat. There’s a chain-link fence designed to keep people out. The surface is barren, parched, and covered in various workman’s tools. Periodically there’s vegetation that pokes out of the ground. The property is completely surrounded by busy roads. It’s hot, dry, and an unbearable walk from the car to the entrance.
But, once at the tree-covered entrance, the world changes. Here it’s cool, there’s fruit growing out of what appears to be sun caked soil, and periodically a lizard runs by, happy to be out of the sun.
We’re at the Forestiere Underground Gardens. This eclectic attraction is the work of Baldassare Forestiere (1879-1946), a Sicilian immigrant who arrived in Fresno to grow oranges. He bought 10 acres of land in hopes of fulfilling this dream but instead discovered very quickly that the ground is made of hardpan and he owned 10-acres of un-farmable land.
He also discovered that it gets excruciatingly hot in Fresno. Day after day he returned to the agony of a tiny, hot makeshift home above ground and one day started to build his house under the earth where the temperature is more reasonable.
For the next 4-decades, he built a series of underground terraces, gardens, rooms, and passageways that he wanted to become a part of an underground resort. And, in the midst of it all, he even managed to find a place for his orange trees to grow.
But he didn’t stop with growing just orange trees; he was an expert grafter and started to experiment in growing multiple fruits on one tree (e.g. oranges, limes, grapefruit, kumquats, and bushukan). He also incorporated the design of his house around the trees to make it easier to pick the fruit when it was ready (from the top or from walkways beside the plants).
When Forestiere passed away and his family discovered what he’d built and thought he was insane. They immediately sold off most of the 10-acres of land that housed the subterranean villa. These sold passages were filled and covered by roads and buildings. What remains is the land that was deeded to one brother who understood Baldassare’s vision and chose to preserve it.
To me, the entire experience was a bit like being on Tatooine in a cave modelled after Sacromonte (Spain).