Brotha from Anotha Motha! – Baldassare Forestiere and Simon Rodia

What leads people to create?  Maybe the answer is nostalgia, necessity, madness, or a mixture of all three?  Wouldn’t it be crazy if two people from the vicinity of Italy, who never knew each other, settled in California around the same time frame, started creating something grande in the same vein?

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Its hard to believe, but something like this actually happened.  I’m so fortunate to have visited Watts Towers last year, where I witnessed the artistry and engineering of Simon Rodia, who tirelessly worked from 1921 to 1954 to create his towering masterpiece Nuestro Pueblo. I couldn’t find any website that suggested why he would want to spend 30 years of his life building the towers. I suppose it was just a calling, a hobby, and an homage to his homeland, Italy.

Meanwhile, in Fresno, California, a Sicilian man named Baldassare Forestiere was dying from the sweltering central valley summers, and had discovered that the 80+ acres of land he just purchased was unfarmable.  He proceeded to build an underground respite by hallowing out over 10 acres of land; a 40 year labor of love (1906-1946).  He built everything by hand, and engineered everything without blueprints or notes. What he was able to do without any formal training was absolutely stunning.  I was lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the grounds.

You enter into a well maintained rose and citrus garden.  The roses smell wonderful and some of the citrus grow larger than your head!

Before the tour you wait in a shady path lined with benches situated close to the entrance of the underground gardens. Even though it was pretty hot outside, because you are slightly below ground level at this point, you can already start to feel the temperature cool.

Once the tour starts you are led immediately into the Forestiere property, which is anywhere from 10 to 20 feet underground.  The cooling effect is pretty immediate, and it feels very good to be there.

Forestiere came to America to find his fortune in citrus farming. But, after discovering that his entire property was not farmable, he began digging and making his home.

Because of his background in farming, he was able to incorporate horticulture into his architecture.

He had many rooms underground where he planted citrus trees.  He farmed them differently from most people.  Because they grew underground, instead of having to climb the trees to harvest the fruits, he could just go above ground and pick the fruit off the top of the trees.

He also practiced the art of grafting fruit trees.  Some of the trees would have many different kinds of citrus growing on one tree.  Just imaging one tree filled with oranges, lemons and grapefruits.  It sounds like a fairytale tree to me. 🙂

He also used the sun to his advantage.  He heated water by the sun to use for his bath water, and he had an insulated bedroom for the winter, as well as an open room for the summer.

As the tour guide explained how he lived, I could see myself living the same way more and more.  Everything he did made sense, and was done in the most simple way possible.

The craziest part for me was when the tour guide led us to a part of the house that was supposed to resemble a boat pointing toward the pacific.  Simon Rodia had also built his towers to be shaped like a boat pointing toward Italy.

Whatever the reasons for this insatiable need to build, theres no doubt that both of these men carved out a piece of culture in California.  I highly recommend visiting both landmarks if you get the chance.  🙂