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  1. #1

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    T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    This is the 3rd and final TR on our Memorial Weekend Road Trip. Here are the links to part 1 and 2

    http://micechat.com/forums/other-the...gs-canyon.html
    http://micechat.com/forums/other-the...acramento.html

    My reason for breaking it up is simple... there is a lot of pictures of 3 completely different locations and I wanted to make it easier for people to look at what they want to see.

    Staying in Fresno was a last minute decision made early Sunday morning. Tink and I knew we wouldn't leave Sacramento until 3 or 4pm at the earliest and we didn't want to do the long 7hr drive home. Fresno is the halfway point. I flipped through Priceline and Travelocity, again Travelocity came out on top. Since this was last minute the hotel wasn't the greatest (Ramada Inn) but it had a pool and beds. I won't go into detail but overall it was decent accommodations. I'll be honest... usually Fresno isn't a place I recommended staying because there isn't much to do but drive through it. However there are hidden gems.

    What I didn't know was that our hotel was almost directly across the street from this;



    Huell Howser (local PBS celebrity who goes around looking at state parks etc.) covered this a while back. I'd always wanted to go, but wasn't willing to make the 4hr trip to Fresno just for this. Since it was across the street, 1hr tour, and we were already here... might as well do it in the morning. So we did. Again... pure luck... Fresno was only supposed to be a pitstop.
    Last edited by techskip; 06-04-2010 at 06:51 PM.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  2. #2

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    The phrase "Underground Gardens" sort of sums it up but there is a great story behind it. I love hour our guide told the story so I'll tell it roughly the same way. Back at the turn of the century an Italian immigrant stepped off a boat and decided he wanted to grow oranges. The problem was he landed in Boston... and needless to say the weather wasn't great. So for a couple years he dug subways and saved his money. When he asked people where to go to grow oranges they all said California so out he came. He landed in Orange County a few years later near what is now Disneyland. He liked the weather, liked what he saw, but realized everyone else liked it to so the land was too expensive. As he talked to the locals he heard about Fresno so he went up there and bought some land.

    You can imagine how excited he was, now he has land, he has trees, he takes a pick, swings, and the pick bounces off the ground almost hitting him in the face. He figures it was bad luck so he walks over and tries at another spot, same thing happens, pick just bounces off it. That's when he realized he'd bought 80 acres of hardpan... basically one step below solid rock! Trees don't grow in it, you can't really dig in it, now he's broke and owns 80 acres of useless land.

    He builds a one room wood shack on the property and hires himself out as a farm hand to save money. To make things worse, this is the worst summer on Fresno's books... every day is 100+ and that little shack has a wood stove... so he's boiling all day only to come home to a sweltering shack. He remembers his homeland back in Italy, his parents had a wine cellar, that was cool, so in his spare time he digs one. 8ft down it's cooler... so he digs our a bedroom, then a kitchen. He realizes it's cooler but he begins to think about it and starts an experiment. He builds a small planter and plants some herbs. They not only grow, they thrive. Excited he builds a bigger planter and plants an orange tree... that tree thrives... now he's on to something! For the next 40 years he dug tunnels and chambers throughout his property. No plans, no "formal" training... just a memory of Roman architecture and a love of digging.

    That alone was enough to convince me that I had made the right choice by taking this tour.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  3. #3

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    To protect the last remaining 10 acres from vandals the property is fenced in with barbed wire. They open the gates every hour for tours. Once everyone is escorted inside the gate is relocked and someone is posted at it. No one is allowed to leave the tour without an escort. It was Memorial Day so we didn't know what to expect. Our crowd at the gate soon swelled to 20, then 30... and then the gates opened.


    I do not know how old the mailbox is but I liked it so I took a pic.

    An employee opened the gate and directed everyone to a shady grape terrace. Just walking to it you notice it is 4 or 5ft below the ground


    This bench was carved by him, it is not concrete, it is earth, and you are allowed to sit on it... this further convinced me it would be an interesting tour.


    The kids didn't know what to think... they were excited but not sure what this was going to be.


    the "baby" kept pulling at the grape leaves, she was also excited.


    This is a shot of the "unknown" we had to wait a few minutes before going down there... we are already around 4 or 5ft down... curious how deep this goes.


    And then... suddenly... down we go.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  4. #4

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    This is a hand made planter, with an original 100 year old orange tree, roughly 10ft below the ground. As you walk down you realize it is substantially cooler down here.


    That is looking "up" through the tree's skylight.

    At this point you enter a building and pay for the tour. All the inside shots came out blurry because of bad lighting (the flash was useless down here). While Tink paid I took the kids around and explored a little.


    We go out here on the tour but this was a preview shot I took.


    this is a real working well, again roughly 10ft down.

    So once you pay they sit you down in a large hall. This was the last thing Forestiere dug. He died before he could complete it.


    This is a stage he built. His plan was for people to use it and enjoy it, possibly have a band up there during a wedding party.


    Again sorry for the blur. This is a farther out shot. His brother completed the room, but as you can see the walls are concrete not hardpan. Forestiere's method was to dig out chunks of hardpan, then use them like bricks to reinforce the walls. The green roof has it's own story. At the end of WW2 the Army was holding an auction. They went down looking for building materials. They came back with the roof of an entire chowhall! Talk about luck... he not only saved a piece of history, he found a roof for a fraction of what it would have cost to build.

    Once seated the tour guide tells the story of how this place came to be. Then they split the main group up into groups of 15 or so. This is why it is recommended to be here early if you really want to go. They will cut people off if they feel it is too many on a tour.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  5. #5

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    this is known as the divinity garden. He was a devoutly Catholic man, and many of the rooms contain religious symbolism. For example the planter itself is a triangle with 3 trees and a grapvine with 3 branches in the rough shape of a cross. Looking at that grapvine it is hard to believe it is over a hundred years old.

    Then the tour guide drops another bombshell... all the trees still produce fruit. Most fruit bearing trees stop producing around 50 or 60 years and die shortly thereafter. Sometimes you can milk them a little longer. Due to the rich previously unused soil (10ft down so no one has farmed it) and the microclimate, they have trees producing fruit 100 years later. What's more... oranges the size of softballs (I've seen smaller cantelope) and other fruit even bigger.


    this was the only square skylight he built. Most were circular and slightly off center to improve drainage and not overwater the tree when it rained. He made it in a rectangle so it would make a waterfall when it rains. His kitchen window was right across from it.


    this is the original herb planter... "Home Depot" plant though since the herbs died.


    again sorry for the blur but you can appreciate the location


    even better picture of the divinity garden.


    Everyone was looking in a different place... the kids were beyond amazed.


    Not sure which garden this is... might have been a private garden


    Like I said he was a very religious man.


    To make some shade in the larger open skylights he also built terraces. I will show the above ground version later on.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  6. #6

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    This is his table where he could watch the waterfall while eating with his guests.


    Again in the center is a Home Depot plant. What he initially had was a dwarf orange tree... so if anyone wanted fruit at dinner they could pick it. Sadly the tree died a few years back... it was in it's 90's and produced fruit right up until the year before it died.


    This was his bathtub... in his private garden, 10 or 15 ft below the surface. To take advantage of the Fresno summers he built an above ground cistern to keep his hot water in. So he always had a hot bath and didn't spend anything for it!


    This is his summer bed chamber, large and open to circulate the cool air. His winter chamber is smaller to keep heat in, and also has a fireplace.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  7. #7

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    Notice how the planter is round... he loved making things round...


    One of the few original doors left. All the windows are long gone as are most doors because of vandals.


    She loved this window, couldn't stop smiling.


    this was used as his wine cellar. They no longer make wine here... so they use it to display his tools. Hard to believe but this entire thing was carved from hand tools and a plow pulled by two mules.


    At some point he decides that the people of Fresno need a place to stay out of the sun so he decides to turn his home into a resort. He begins expanding and building all over his 80 acres... every now and then they find a tunnel or chamber that they didn't know about. This is the auto tunnel where guests could drive up. He built planters in the side that were level so the water would run off the drive, and into the planter thereby watering the plants.


    My butt... and some cool walls.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  8. #8

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    He got so good at farming that he grafted a tree that grew 7 different fruits at the same time. Due to age only 3 branches remain and they produce oranges, naval oranges, and I think lemons if I remember correctly... but again the tree is in it's 80's... This is also the lowest point they know of, roughly 20ft below ground. The kids are just learning to read and my oldest thought he misread it when he saw it grew 7 different fruits.


    Honestly amazed at this.


    The story goes that a bird dropped a seed and it started growing on the first level. Instead of ripping it out or replanting it he decided to let it grow. He did similar things in other places. When a grape vine grew into a wall he made a hole (3 actually) and trained it to grow back out rather then prune it.


    Me enjoying the shade


    This is his aquarium. I will let the sign below explain it.


    He fished in the river. If it was a colorful fish he kept it in the aquarium to enjoy. If it wasn't colorful it went in a different pond and later on the plate. So he literally had fresh fruit and fresh fish every night.


    Another shot of the terrace. This is back up at a higher point (level 1 of the 7 fruit tree if you will).
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  9. #9

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens


    This is another shot of the wine cellar from the other side. The baby at some point early on decided she didn't want to be in the backpack. The downside is she was barefoot... but the guide told us it was all dirt and that Forestiere supposedly liked to be barefoot as well. It made us laugh.


    This is a boat planter he made to commemorate his trip back to Italy to see his family. It is currently being restored so I wasn't able to go in there. He formed a tree as the mast, and carved an anchor as well.


    Remember that 7 fruit tree... well you need a way to pick it and he didn't like ladders. So on the first level (the one with the tree that grew from a seed) he made a path all the way around so you could simply walk up and pick the fruit.


    I love these terraces.


    At some point you exit into another private garden


    For reference this is the auto tunnel and yes it is big enough to fit a car. There is a picture in the 1933 Fresno Bee of a car in it.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  10. #10

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    Once we exited I took some "topside" photos... this is the great hall with it's WW2 chowhall roof from the top.


    As you can see the only part above the ground is the 3 or 4 feet of wood.


    These are those terraces, with the citrus trees inside.


    This is the grape terrace I initially stood under when we started the tour. I am 6'4, and the baby was barely touching the grape leaves so you do the math.


    Tink loves roses and they have an amazing garden there.


    Another shot "above ground" notice the walls as well as the terraces.

    Of his original 80 acres only 10 remain in family possession. He never left a will so when he died there was a land grab. People still find tunnels and chambers to this day. The earth is hard enough and the engineering good enough, that structures could be above it and not know it. It has survived earthquakes. The real "threat" is erosion, gophers, and rabbits. The place is still owned by the family, who uses the money from the tours to restore the property. Several rooms are not open currently because it is under restoration.

    We were LUCKY to have stumbled upon this place. I left a nice note on the website encouraging them to repaint the signs when funds became available. This is a real hidden gem. I don't recommend going to Fresno just for this... but if you are traveling the 99 it is worth a stop (less then 2 miles on Shaw Ave).
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  11. #11

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    Memorial Weekend you did alot!
    I never been at this garden.....I know ,the history of the place....!
    Did the kids enjoy it?
    Once again ,Great Pictures!
    Soaring like an EAGLE !

  12. #12

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    The Gardens are just an amazing place.
    Quote Originally Posted by migo View Post
    I poop with joy!
    Best Quote...EVER!!!


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  13. #13

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    Quote Originally Posted by Eagleman View Post
    Memorial Weekend you did alot!
    I never been at this garden.....I know ,the history of the place....!
    Did the kids enjoy it?
    Once again ,Great Pictures!
    The kids loved it, and it really is an amazing place for a very reasonable admission. As I said I don't think it is worth the drive from LA to Fresno just to see it... but if you are passing through on the 99 to Sacramento or beyond then it is worth the stop!

    The only reason we were able to go is because we were staying across the street. I had heard of it but I didn't realize where it was... and you don't see a lot above ground.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  14. #14

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    Iive in the Clovis/Fresno area. You are right. Absolutely NOTHING to do here. Glad I graduate on Wednesday.

  15. #15

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    Re: T&T Memorial Road Trip pt3 Forestiere Underground Gardens

    Quote Originally Posted by Indiana_James View Post
    Iive in the Clovis/Fresno area. You are right. Absolutely NOTHING to do here. Glad I graduate on Wednesday.
    Seriously there...

    well, I like zoo, it's not a big zoo but I like it.

    I live near the Garden and never went to it. (I just take bus 9 to get to where it is, takes about 10-15 minutes maybe less)

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