Forestiere Underground Gardens

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Forestiere Underground Gardens
Forestiere Underground Gardens at 5021 West Shaw Avenue, Fresno, California LCCN2013634990.tif
Forestiere Underground Gardens is located in Fresno, California
Forestiere Underground Gardens
Forestiere Underground Gardens is located in California
Forestiere Underground Gardens
Forestiere Underground Gardens is located in the United States
Forestiere Underground Gardens
Location5021 W. Shaw Ave., Fresno, California
Coordinates36°48′26″N 119°52′51″W / 36.80722°N 119.88083°W / 36.80722; -119.88083Coordinates: 36°48′26″N 119°52′51″W / 36.80722°N 119.88083°W / 36.80722; -119.88083
ArchitectForestiere, Baldasare
NRHP reference No.77000293[1]
CHISL No.916[2]
Added to NRHPOctober 28, 1977

The Forestiere Underground Gardens, located at 5021 West Shaw Avenue in Fresno, California, are a series of subterranean structures built by Baldasare Forestiere, an immigrant from Sicily, over a period of 40 years from 1906 to his death in 1946. The gardens are operated by members of the Forestiere family through the Forestiere Historical Center, and can be considered a spectacular and unconventional example of vernacular architecture.[3]

The catalyst for the construction of the underground abode was a result of the hot summers typical of the Fresno area. The inspiration lends itself to ancient Roman catacombs that Baldasare was infatuated with in his youth. Countless hours were spent excavating the hardpan layer that cements much of Fresno's soil to create his underground home. It had a summer bedroom, a winter bedroom, a bath, a functional kitchen, a fish pond, and a parlor with a fireplace.[4] Interspersed amongst the beautiful stone walls and archways are grottoes and courtyards that allow for pockets of light. The intricate pathways were created section by section, over a span of 10 acres, without the aid of blueprints.[5]


There are three levels within this underground structure:

  • Level One: 10 feet deep
  • Level Two: 20 feet deep
  • Level Three: 23 feet deep


There are 65 rooms in the Forestiere Underground Gardens.[6] The gardens, while subterranean, have many skylights and catchbasins for water. The dirt that was moved to create the large structure was utilized elsewhere to fill planters, create stones placed within the catacombs, and to level out other parts of the land. The pathways and rooms were constructed with various widths to help direct airflow by creating pressure as it moves through narrower portions and maintain movement as it bounces off the slants and curves of the cavernous walls. The conical skylights allow for the hot air to be pushed out more quickly and the cool air to remain below.


Another view from the street

The plants and trees, some of which are over 100 years old, are protected, by virtue of construction, from the frost in the winter months. Each level was planted at different times, so they bloom in succession, in order to lengthen the growing season. It houses a variety of fruit ranging from citrus and berries to exotic fruits like the kumquat, loquat, and jujube. The trees have been grafted to bear more than one kind of fruit, allowing for a larger variety to be grown throughout the space. Trees and vines were also planted above the dwelling, acting as insulation and forming canopies that provide protection from the elements.

Citrus trees at the Forestiere Underground Gardens


It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is registered as No. 916 on the list of California Historical Landmarks.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. ^ "Forestiere Underground Gardens". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  3. ^ Fiore, Teresa (2002). "Mid-Twentieth-Century Italian American Immigrant Spaces: Religious and Political Visions of Change in Architectural and Narrative Texts". Pre-Occupied Spaces: Re-configuring the Italian Nation Through its Migrations (Ph.D. thesis). La Jolla, CA: University of California, San Diego. p. 35. Document No.3064464 – via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  4. ^ Forestiere Historical Center Archived 2013-04-14 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 27 Apr. 2013.
  5. ^ Forestiere Underground Gardens Archived 2013-05-12 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 27 Apr. 2013.
  6. ^ "BURIED TREASURE : A Legal Battle Soils the Splendor of Subterranean Gardens". Los Angeles Times. Aug 13, 1989.

External links[edit]