Modesto's central location off of Highway 99 makes it easily accessible from throughout California. The San Francisco Bay area is a 90-mile drive from Modesto. Eastward lie the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Yosemite National Park.
Modesto is located in the heart of one of the greatest agricultural areas of our nation - the San Joaquin Valley, and agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Modesto is blessed year round with mild weather and some of the world's richest soil. Dairy products, nuts, fruits, wine grapes and poultry products are some of its top products.
Modesto offers the diversity and facilities of a metropolitan city, but still maintains an atmosphere of old fashioned hospitality. Modesto is the 16th largest city in California with a population exceeding 210,000 people and is also the seat of Stanislaus County.
Even from its earliest days, Modesto has been a community dedicated to growth, progress and the quality of community life. Modesto came about at the end of construction of the Central Pacific Railroad line on November 8, 1870 and was incorporated as a municipal city on August 6, 1884. Modesto was originally supposed to be named Ralston to honor William Chapman Ralston, the director of the Central Pacific Railroad. When he objected, the town was named Modesto, a Spanish word meaning modest, after Ralston's modesty.
By 1910, Modesto's population was estimated to be 4,500. At the time, the young city was referred to as the "most metropolitan and classy of its size in California." Modesto soon became known as the "Rose City" and the "Garden City" due to its many rose bushes and well-manicured lawns.
Modesto has a long history, and so do its businesses. The Chamber of Commerce recently recognized its own centennial anniversary along with a variety of companies that have celebrated 100 years of business. Among them is the J.S. West & Company. James Stewart West, a former lawyer and judge from Nebraska, came with his family to Modesto in 1908. In 1909, James founded J.S. West and Company which grew and evolved to include coal, wood, fertilizer, egg production, propane, lumber, furniture, and appliance sales. The humble grain and coal company started by JW west now spans central California with four current divisions: eggs, feed, hardware, and propane.
Another Chamber member is Bank of America, which began as the First National Bank of Modesto. It was founded by Oramil McHenry and others, and was the original Chamber of Commerce member. In 1927, the Bank of Italy acquired the First National Bank. That same year, Amadeo P. Giannini consolidated the Bank of Italy with Liberty Bank of America to form the Bank of Italy National Trust & Savings Association. In 1928, the company merged with Bank of America, Los Angeles, and Giannini interestingly changed the name from Bank of Italy to Bank of America in 1930.
Other Chamber companies that have celebrated 100 years in business along with the Chamber are AT&T, PG&E, Foster Farms, and Chicago Title.
One major project known around Modesto is the renovation of its famous Arch. In 1911, the Modesto Business Men's Association asked the city council for the opportunity to construct an "ornamental and electrical arch" that would horizontally span I street and 9th street. The association's petition was accepted. Soon afterward, Modesto architect Bernard Joseph was awarded $50 prize money for his winning design. Joseph's assistant, Clarence Dakin, noted, "We purposely made this arch elaborate. We believed that Modesto should have something that any city would be proud of. Paris itself would not sneer at an arch such as this."
A committee of the Modesto Business Men's Association chose to emblazon, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health" on the arch, after paying Sam Harbaraugh $3 for his winning entry in a 1911 contest. The slogan was actually the second place winner, with "Nobody's got Modesto's Goat" taking first.
Built in 1912, the arch has remained intact for many years, welcoming visitors to Modesto. The arch survived a 1966 attempt to have it relocated or removed entirely, and was once moved temporarily while 9th street was widened.
A symbol of one of the first efforts to promote the city of Modesto, the arch continues to serve as Modesto's most recognizable icon.
Modesto is working on renovating its entire downtown area, which combines its many historic sites with vibrant new establishments. This city features pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets, fine dining, specialty shops, and many businesses.
Another prominent landmark in Modesto is the Stanislaus County Library. In 1906, business man Oramil McHenry passed away, leaving in his will $20,000 and a half ownership of three city lots to establish a public library in Modesto. Ground was broken for the new library in September 1911 and construction was completed in April 1912. Facilities included an outdoor reading room, fireplaces, a men's smoking lounge, and a ladies basement rest area. The library was officially opened on May 1, 1912.
In April 1970, ground was broken for the new library one block away. The McHenry Library was moved there, to its current location, and the former library building became the McHenry Museum, which is now listed in the national registry of historic places.
A major presence in Modesto is E&J Gallo winery, whose headquarters is centered there.
E&J Gallo began in 1933 near the end of prohibition, when Ernest Gallo went to the McHenry library to find a book about wine making. He was told that there were no books available; however, the librarian remembered some pamphlets in the library basement that might be helpful. Ernest found one on fermentation and one on the care of wine; they were exactly what he needed. Ernest and Julio obtained the necessary government license, purchased winemaking equipment on credit, and leased a small Modesto warehouse. By the time of prohibition's repeal in December 1933, Ernest had made his first sale of 6,000 gallons of wine to the pacific wine company.
Today, E&J Gallo Winery is the largest winemaker in the world, with production of nearly 900 million bottles per year. E&J Gallo continues to thrive under family-owned leadership, and is the largest employer in Modesto. The company has developed great business leaders far into the third generation and promises to continue as a leader in its industry.
This same family is responsible for Modesto's Gallo Center of the Arts.
Modesto is also the host of the Stanislaus County Fair each year.
Another feature of Modesto is its airport. On September 10, 1910, Modesto ratified a resolution to acquire an airport. Since this was only seven years after the wright brothers made their first manned flight of a powered aircraft, Modesto made national news for establishing (at least on paper) one of the first, if not the very first, municipally-owned airport. Today, Modesto city-county airport's primary activity is general aviation in nature and the airport is home base for approximately 200 general aviation aircraft.
Modesto also has had daily newspapers for over 128 years. While The Modesto Bee has been printed and delivered to households and businesses in the greater Stanislaus County region every day for 85 years, its history actually extends to well before the turn of the century. Today, between the printed and digital formats, nearly 300,000 people read the Modesto bee each week.
What really brought Modesto into the spotlight, though, was the 1973 classic American Graffiti. This film was a tribute to the car culture of the 1950s and '60s. On weekends, teenagers hopped into cars and drove bumper-to-bumper down the city's main drag. Cruising became Modesto's claim to fame.
Now, Modesto celebrates Graffiti Summer.
Burge's Drive-In was the place that started it all. The unique drive-in was a refreshing motorist beacon along highway 99 in years after the end of the war, when car travel became popular. But in the evenings, Burge's became a place for the youth of Modesto to hang out.
Since the movie, the culture of Modesto has evolved as an icon. The city is now home to George Lucas Plaza and the American Graffiti Cruising Loop. The Modesto Historic Cruise Route features 25 historical and educational markers on this interesting walking tour and now, we are about to unveil the "Legends of the Cruise" walk of Fame. Prepared by the Lucas family, this "Legends of the Cruise", has stories of the people and places that made Modesto USA a classic American city, known throughout the world.
This true American town is also home to its own minor-league baseball team, the Modesto Nuts, who play at John Thurman Field. This team has formerly been knows as the Modesto Athletics (or A's, for their affiliation with the Oakland A's), the Modesto Colts, and the Modesto Reds.
Modesto is also proud of its education. Modesto High School is the first and oldest high school in our city. In 1883, Ruliff Stephen Holway saw a need for a high school that would provide for students beyond just a primary grammar education. R.S. Holway was the first principal and was responsible for the education of the entire student body. Education continued to expand, and Modesto High School was the first public school to provide the offerings of the International Baccalaureate program.
Modesto Junior College was founded in 1921 and has positively affected the lives of thousands of our region's residents for the past 90 years. South Hall was completed in 1923, the first junior college classroom in the state.
"In the last decades of Modesto's history, there has been progress, vision, and growth beyond even founder William Ralston's prediction for the wheat field that was Modesto in 1870. Modesto is now the largest city in Stanislaus County, attracting new businesses from retailers to manufacturing to the services industry. Modesto strives to meet and exceed the demands of future technology and innovation which are vital to our growth," according to the City of Modesto website.
They also say, aptly, that Modestans are known for their friendly faces and heartwarming personalities. The City of Modesto offers a welcoming community with a focus on family interests and values for all ages. City festivals and events are held all year long to strengthen the bond between all of Modesto's residents. Modesto is a fast growing city that hasn't forgotten what makes it so special - its people.
**Many thanks go to the McHenry Museum and the Historical Society. Their websites can be found http://www.mchenrymuseum.org/index.html and http://www.mchenrymuseum.org/museum/societyhistory.html.
Also, many thanks go to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, especially Constance Anderson and Cecil Russell who were so kind to meet with us. http://www.modchamber.org/.
The city of Modesto's website can be found here, http://www.modestogov.com/**