It’s my great pleasure to welcome my first ever guest blogger on The Eternal Traveller. Marsha Lee, aka TC History Gal, has so many strings to her bow that it’s difficult to keep up with her. She is passionate about many things, including teaching and learning, especially in the areas of history and Social Studies. Her newest passion is blogging, and she tells fascinating stories about amazing places and people in her local area. Today’s story is the perfect example of this, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Take it away, Marsha!
The Private Home of Baldassare Forestiere: Fresno’s Underground Gardens
I have lived in the “South Valley” of California for 28 years, and hadn’t been to the gardens, though I had driven past them hundreds of times and never known it. Located right off the first north-south freeway through the Central Valley, Highway 99, the tour of the two and a half acre tunnel home and garden takes about 60-90 minutes. You start at street level, head down the stairs, and remain in a large hall that contains a gift shop, exhibit areas, and a large auditorium.
Walk through the arbor.
Go down the stairs into the entrance of the museum/home.
While we waited for the docent, we browsed through the museum pieces. Each group starts in the large auditorium where the docent gives a background of Forestiere’s life, and shows some examples of the soil, and the equipment he used to dig his home.
The Fresno Bee loved to report on Forestiere’s experiment in farming underground.
Around 1900, Baldassare Forestiere, a second son asked his wealthy father what he was going to inherit. When his dad told him nothing since he was the second son, Baldassare left for America to seek his own fortune. A hard-working lad, he found work in Boston digging tunnels for the subway. A few winters cured him of wanting to live there, and he hopped on a train and headed west for California. He made it to Orange County, and discovered that he loved growing oranges, but land was not cheap even back in 1900. So he asked around and eventually decided to settle in Fresno. He bought 80 acres, and set about readying his fields for orange groves.
The articles helped us understand how difficult it was to build this tremendous home, and how large it once was before the freeway went in.
Fresno and Tulare Counties have some interesting soil types. They have wonderful delta soil from all the rivers that flow from the Sierra Nevadas down the Fresno, Kern, Kings, Kaweah, and numerous other rivers and creeks into what used to be Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake other than the Great Lakes in the United States.
They also have a soil type known as hard-pan. As you can see in the example above, this soil is more like cement. As it turned out, this ambitious lad, Baldassare Forestiere, had purchased 80 acres of mostly hardpan. Not to be discouraged, Forestiere picked up his old stand-by trade, digging and began to dig. During the day he dug for hire, and helped create some of the amazing canals we have in this arid agricultural region. By nights and weekends he dug tunnels in his property.
This is near the front entrance of his home.
Forestiere was deeply religious and found ways to insert the Trinity symbolically his home and into many the garden features.
He had his own church bell.
The three branches of the tree represent the Trinity.
These statues were in his bedroom.
Rain came through the holes in the roof and watered the plants. He was very economical and ecological as well, well ahead of his time.
The table was set just as it had been when Forestiere set it.
Up to the minute news on the radio.
He always had a touch of Italian beauty.
He had the most modern cook stove and cabinet of the day.
The sign says, “In the winter to keep the warm air in and the cold air out, he placed a sheet of glass over the skylights. To close off drafts he installed a glass door and windows. For even more warmth he lit the fireplace. In summer he removed the pieces of glass, thus allowing the cool underground air to circulate more freely through his home.”
This table was his entry /dining room table.
He entertained frequently, often women (single women), and sometimes hosted large parties. He was handsome, and quite popular. He had all the amenities of the day including a radio, top-of-the-line-stove, and the ultimate in pottery decor. He carved niches in the wall to house his gadgets.
The sign says, “He had his table and chairs under his aquarium where he would sit and read. Looking up he could see the fish swimming overhead. “
The fish pond was located where he and his guests could see it. Even without a real fish pond, his handiwork was amazing.
His railings were a work of art.
No man’s house is complete without a garage, and Forestiere’s was no different. And just like normal, the owners didn’t really want visitors in the garage because they were working on it. (haha) They just didn’t want us to see their junky mess.
The door needs a little repair to fit tightly.
He had some rocks stored in here.
Some dangerous equipment kept this area roped off from the public.
There was even a tunnel for cars to drive through to get to the garage entrance.
Although he died without having married or children, his brother and his brother’s children bought the property, and kept it in the family, where it remains today. The tunnel house is truly a work of art. This is a tour worth the investment. Photographs definitely don’t portray the number of tunnels that we saw, and we didn’t see them all, and I haven’t included ALL of MY pictures!
Aha… this is what it looks like at ground level above the large presentation room.
We drove home, and marveled at where we live, wondering how we overlooked such a treasure for so long.
First published on Marsha’s Streaming Thoughts
Revised and published on TC History Gal’s history website