Over 100 years ago, Baldassare Forestiere made his way to Fresno after immigrating from Sicily. He bought 80 acres of land with the goal to raise citrus. The location of the land was perfect, as he was close to the railroad, which is how Fresno ended up on the map in the first place. There was only one small problem: much of his land was hardpan, the sedimentary rock that is common in this area of the San Joaquin Valley. His land was pretty much useless, and Forestiere’s American dream was shattered.

So as the story goes, Forestiere started digging. And digging. And digging. For 40 years until his untimely death, Forestiere kept digging in his spare time. His spread of rooms and gardens eventually comprised 10 acres, laden with intertwining tunnels, fruit trees and grapevines.

Part of Forestiere’s motivation was to have a home for a future wife. He even built a chapel in which he hoped to marry. Sadly, that milestone never happened. When he was in his late 60s, he entered the hospital for a minor operation and unexpectedly died.

His legacy, however, is one of the most stellar highlights in Fresno. The Forestiere Underground Gardens, now owned and managed by Forestiere’s descendants, is an oasis of calm in west Fresno. While some of this underground maze has been lost, much of it has been lovingly preserved and is the highlight if you happen to travel through Fresno. You can only visit via a guided tour, so check the web site for dates and times.

Forestiere had no plan - there was no devotion to any particular kind of building method or architecture. But the legacy he left is certainly impressive, as the work is all hand done and the walls are supported with whatever materials he could find. And 70 years after his passing, his legacy lives in one of the best-kept secrets in California.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Fresno, San Joaquin Valley, travel, forestiere underground gardens, farming, Leon Kaye, architecture

Citrus trees and grapevines add texture to this oasis

Fresno, San Joaquin Valley, travel, forestiere underground gardens, farming, Leon Kaye, architecture

The goal was to create a home for a wife someday

Fresno, San Joaquin Valley, travel, forestiere underground gardens, farming, Leon Kaye, architecture

This vine is over 100 years old

Baldassare Forestiere hoped to make these grounds a resort

Baldassare Forestiere hoped to make these grounds a resort

For four decades this project in West Fresno was a labor of love

For four decades this project in West Fresno was a labor of love

Fresno, San Joaquin Valley, travel, forestiere underground gardens, farming, Leon Kaye, architecture

The palace carved out of hardpan is one of Fresno's best-kept secrets

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.