Modesto officially being the City of Modesto, is the county seat and largest city of Stanislaus County, California, United States. With a population of approximately 201,165 at the 2010 census, Modesto ranks as the 18th largest city in the state of California. The Modesto Census County Division, which includes the cities of Ceres and Riverbank, has a population of 312,842 as of 2010.
Modesto is located in the Central Valley, 90 miles (140 km) north of Fresno, 40 miles (64 km) north of Merced, California, 92 miles (148 km) east of San Francisco, 68 miles (109 km) south of the state capital of Sacramento, 66 miles (106 km) west of Yosemite National Park, and 24 miles (39 km) south of Stockton. Modesto has been honored as a Tree City USA numerous times. It is surrounded by rich farmland; Stanislaus County ranks sixth among California counties in farm production.Led by milk, almonds, chickens, walnuts, and corn silage, the county grossed nearly $3.1 billion in agricultural production in 2011. The Farm to Table movement plays a central role in Modesto living as in the Central Valley.
Modesto was immortalized in the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti (not filmed in Modesto). Lucas grew up in Modesto and graduated from Thomas Downey High School in 1962 and attended Modesto Junior College shortly after. The award-winning film captured the spirit of cruising and friendship on 10th and 11th Streets in 1962 and led to the revival of 1950s nostalgia that included the TV show Happy Days and the other spin-offs.
The City’s architectural landmarks are noteworthy as well, making the city a natural host for the popular annual Architectural Festival. As developers took innovative risks in Modesto, the city became recognized as a testing ground for Mid-Century Modern architecture during the 1940s and 50s. Modesto mid-century buildings have been featured in the Museum of Modern Art publications four times.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2011, which interviews 1,000 participants daily and asks individuals to assess their jobs, finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities, ranked Modesto 126 out of the 190 cities surveyed. In December 2009, Forbes ranked Modesto 48th out of 100 among “Best Bang-for-the-Buck Cities”. In this ranking, Modesto ranked 8th in housing affordability and travel time but also ranked 86th in job forecast growth and 99th in foreclosures.[
The city is the home of Gallo Family Winery, the largest privately owned winery in the world.
Modesto, originally a stop on the railroad connecting Sacramento to Los Angeles, was founded in 1870 and was to be named for financier William C. Ralston, but he was too modest and asked them to find another name for the town. In honor of his modesty, the town was named Modesto.
The city was incorporated in 1884 with a population of over 1000 people. With fields of grain, a nearby river (grain barges during the flood season), and railroad traffic, the town grew. Later, dams were installed in the foothills, irrigation water came, and irrigated fields of vegetables and fruit or nut trees prospered. By 1900, its population was over 4,500. During World War II, the area provided canned goods, powdered milk, and eggs for the US armed forces and allied forces. For the next few decades, Modesto’s population grew at about two percent per year to over 100,000 in 1980, and over 200,000 in 2001.
The official city slogan is “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” which is emblazoned on the downtown Modesto Arch, featured in local photographs and postcards. A contest was run in 1911 to determine the slogan. The original winning slogan was: “Nobody’s got Modesto’s goat”. The second place entry was the final winner. The motto is sometimes spoofed as “The land gets the water, the bankers get the wealth, the cows get contentment, and the farmers get the health.”
Modesto is known for the following tourist attractions and historical sites.
- McHenry Mansion – Built in the early 1880s by Robert McHenry, a local rancher and banker. The mansion is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are given.
- McHenry Museum – Across the street from the McHenry Mansion. Filled with tidbits from Modesto’s history
- George Lucas Plaza – American Graffiti-inspired bronze statue made in the honor of Modesto filmmaker George Lucas, located at Five Points (the intersections of McHenry Avenue, “J” Street, 17th Street, Downey and Needham).
- Gallo Center for the Arts – Center for performing arts opened in 2007 and is located in downtown Modesto at 1000 “I” Street.
- Downtown Modesto – Known for having a variety of restaurants and night life. It also hosts a multi-venue Art Walk year around on the third Thursday of the month, free to view with maps available.
- The State Theatre – Dating back to the 1920s, it was recently renovated and serves as a local performance arts center and as a theater specializing in independent and foreign films.
- John Thurman Field – The stadium renovated several years ago, the home of the Modesto Nuts baseball team (single “A” affiliate of the Colorado Rockies team).
- Graceada Park neighborhood – An area of representative old homes (circa 1920s and earlier) with streets lined with large city planted shade trees and a series of parks, a bandshell and other amenities. The name Graceada is based on two old local ladies that helped promote the idea of a park, Grace and Ada.
The 1973 movie, American Graffiti, starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Cindy Williams, was set in 1962 Modesto; however, the scenes of weekend cruising were actually filmed in Petaluma, California.
Modesto usually has mild winters and very hot, dry summers. Average January temperatures range from 56 °F (13 °C) in the day to 40 °F (4 °C) at night. Most of the rainfall occurs during the winter and the annual total is 13.2 inches (33.5 cm). Since the city does not have a full storm sewer system, many streets flood during winter rain storms.
Average July temperatures range from 80 °F (~27 °C) in the day to 50 °F (10 °C) at night. During the summer months there can be multiple days in a row with high temperatures exceeding 100 °F (~38 °C). This can pose health risks for people with weak constitutions or who ignore the dangers of heat stroke. Onshore breezes (locally known as the “delta breeze”) moderate these high temperatures somewhat, with cooler air coming in after 8 or 9 PM on summer nights.
Modesto is served by one of the busiest rail corridors in the country. The Amtrak San Joaquin make eight daily stops on the route between Oakland and Bakersfield, and four stops daily on the route between Sacramento and Bakersfield.
Modesto is served by the Modesto City-County Airport that lies east of California State Route 99 within the city limits. SkyWest Airlines (operating as United Express) provided air service to San Francisco International Airport, however commercial service stopped in June 2014. The airport is used for manufacturing and the shipping industries throughout California and the United States.
Highways and roads
Interstate 5 and California State Route 99 provide major highway access to Modesto. California State Route 132links the city to Interstate 580, providing commuter access to highways into the Bay Area. California State Route 108 connects to Oakdale, California and east to the foothills. The city has added many roundabouts in an effort to ease traffic congestion within the town with varying degrees of success.
Three public transit systems serve Modesto: Modesto Area Express (MAX), StaRT, and the San Joaquin Regional Transit District along the northern edge of the city on McHenry Avenue. MAX is the local system with additional connections to the Altamont Commuter Express train station in Lathrop and the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. MAX also provides a paratransit “dial-a-ride” service which specifically caters to seniors and the disabled. It is open to the general public only during certain times. StaRT connects Modesto to the county’s other populated centers. Modesto also will be served by the future California High Speed Rail.
The large industrial region south and east of the city is served by the Modesto and Empire Traction Company, a 5-mile (8.0 km) short line railroad, with a web of industry tracks and many customers.
At one time, Modesto was the operational center of the Tidewater Southern Railway, which had its main line down the center of Ninth Street, a major north-south street. A cityordinance passed by the city council kept electric power lines over this section of street activated long after the railroad had converted to steam power. In 2000, the last trains ran down Ninth Street. Now the railroad (owned by the Union Pacific Railroad since 1983) no longer passes through Modesto.