Modesto, California

Modesto is the county seat of Stanislaus County in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 188,856. Current census estimates place the population at 206,300. According to the California State Department of Finance January 2006 estimate, 514,370 people live in the Modesto Metropolitan Statistical Area. Roughly from Yosemite National Park, from Sacramento, California's capital city, and about from both San Jose and San Francisco, Modesto is less than 2 hours from many prime locations in California. This proximity to major business centers has turned the agriculturally based city into a bedroom community. Over twenty percent of the workforce travels outside of the county to their place of employment. The area is plagued by some of the worst air quality in the nation, on occasion surpassing even that of Los Angeles. It is reported to have had the highest car theft per capita rate in the United States in 2005 and 2006, it dropped to fifth in 2007, but regained the top spot in 2008. In 2007, Modesto was named the worst city in America in Cities Ranked & Rated, 2nd Edition and one of the top three most dangerous metropolitan areas in California by Morgan Quitno. (It ranked second in 2006)


Modesto, originally a stop on the railroad connecting Sacramento to Los Angeles, was founded in 1870 and was to be named for William C. Ralston, financier of many projects in early California. However, he declined the suggestion and a Spanish-speaking railroad worker at the naming ceremony said that Ralston was "Muy modesto" (very modest). Thus, the town was named Modesto. It is unknown at this time if this story is mere folklore, or actual fact. The fact is no one seems to know for certain how Modesto got its name.

Modesto's official slogan is "Water Wealth Contentment Health," which is emblazoned on a large arch downtown that has been immortalized in many photographs. 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.


Modesto is known for the following tourist attractions and historical sites.

  • McHenry Mansion Built by hand 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 recently opened and is located in downtown Modesto at 1000 "I" Street.
  • Downtown Modesto is known for having a variety of restaurants and night life.
  • The State Theatre Dating back to the 1920's, 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 Home of the Modesto Nuts baseball team (single "A" affiliate of the Colorado Rockies MLB team).


Modesto is served by one of the busiest rail corridors in the country. The Amtrak San Joaquins make ten daily stops on the route between Oakland and Bakersfield, and two stops daily on the route between Sacramento and Bakersfield.

Modesto is also served by California State Route 99,California State Route Business Route 99 (9th Street), California State Route 132 (Maze Boulevard), California State Route 108 (McHenry Ave- 'K' Street, 'L' Street, and a future expansion to Crows Landing Road,) and California State Route 219. The Modesto City-County Airport lies next to the Tuolumne River in the southeastern end of the city, just north of the suburb of Ceres. Air service is provided between it and San Francisco International Airport by Skywest Airlines, operating as United Express under an agreement with United Airlines.

Three public transit systems serve Modesto: Modesto Area Express (MAX), Stanislaus Regional Transit (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.

The large industrial region south and east of the city is served by the Modesto and Empire Traction Railroad, a 5-mile (8-km) short line with a web of industry tracks and many customers.

At one time, the city was the operational center of the Tidewater Southern Railway, which had its mainline down the center of Ninth Street, a major north-south road. A law passed by the city kept electric wire over this section of street running long after the railroad converted to steam power. In 2000, the last trains ran down Ninth Street and now the railroad (owned by the Union Pacific Railroad since 1983) is severed through Modesto.

Future Expansion of State Route 132

The city is planning to build an expressway that would expand State Route 132's expressway status from Interstate 580 to State Route 99. The expressway would follow Kansas Ave. from the new freeway interchange on Highway 99 and would go straight out of the city. The city is also planning to add more ramps on the Central Modesto exit in SR 99 for less traffic downtown

Planning and environmental

In the late 1980s Modesto embarked on an update to the city's General Plan pursuant to requirements of the State of California. The result was a comprehensive evaluation of alternative population and land use projections along with associated environmental impact analysis. Some of the environmental factors assessed were air quality, water quality, environmental noise, soil contamination and visual impacts.

Much of the soils in Modesto are classified as part of the Hanford series: (HbpA) fine sandy loam, moderately deep over silt. These soils are well-drained, moderately coarse textured soils derived from alluvium from granitic rock. The Hanford soils are important for the production of a wide variety of irrigated orchard, field, and truck crops.

Vicinity watercourses include the Stanislaus River, the Tuolumne River and Dry Creek empties into the Tuolumne River. Area groundwater, which is the principal source of water supply in the city (Stanislaus,1987), has been historically impaired in a fashion that is spatially variable. In various parts of the city and its perimeter the following water pollutants have occurred from time to time: nitrates, dibromochloroethane, volatile organics, salinity, total dissolved solids and other pesticides.(Torrey, 1989) Each of these contaminants is not present citywide.


In recent years, Modesto has seen a growing number of activist movements. Groups working on homeless issues have led to the creation of an emergency homeless shelter The Environmentalist and anti-environmental racism work of Green Action has centered around opposing various companies like the Modesto Tallow Plant, and the Covanta Energy Corporation. Various individuals and groups have also worked on counter military recruitment in schools, a product of the No Child Left Behind Act, several Animal Rights demonstrations, and various other events/movements. These projects are often firsts for Modesto, in terms of organizing. The Modesto Peace/Life Center, established in 1971, is one of Modesto's longest-lived activist groups, promoting non-violence and a sustainable environment. Recently, Modesto has seen an increase in Culture Jamming and Grafitti around the city in protest of the Iraq War and other humanitarian causes. Most prevalent among these are the 'Stop War' and 'Stop Hate' campaigns. Stop signs around the town are continually defaced to read, 'Stop War' or 'Stop Hate.' These have appeared in great numbers and as far as neighboring Riverbank, CA and stretching to the downtown area. There have been efforts to clean the signs, but the guerrilla artists are vigilant and often strike multiple signs repeatedly.


As of the census of 2000, there were 188,856 people, 64,959 households, and 46,640 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,277.3 people per square mile (2,037.4/km²). There were 67,179 housing units at an average density of 1,877.2/sq mi (724.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.58% White, 25.58% Hispanic or Latino, 3.97% African American, 1.24% Native American, 6.03% Asian, 0.50% - Pacific Islander (

There were 64,959 households out of which 38.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.5% were married couples living together, 14.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.2% were non-families. 22.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.86 and the average family size was 3.36.

In the city the population was spread out with 30.1% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 11.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $40,394, and the median income for a family was $45,681. Males had a median income of $38,595 versus $26,989 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,797. About 12.2% of families and 15.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.9% of those under age 18 and 7.4% of those age 65 or over.


In the state legislature Modesto is located in the 12th and 14th Senate district, represented by Republicans Jeff Denham and Dave Cogdill respectively, and in the 25th and 26th Assembly districts, represented by Republicans Tom Berryhill and Greg Aghazarian respectively. Federally, Modesto is located in California's 18th and 19th congressional districts, which have Cook PVIs of D +3 and R +10 respectively and are represented by Democrat Dennis Cardoza and Republican George Radanovich respectively.


  • The Modesto Bee daily newspaper.
  • Modesto View is a monthly newspaper (and website) that focuses on Modesto's developing cultural, music, and entertainment scene.
  • 209Vibe is a newspaper and website covering music and entertainment in Modesto as well as Stockton.

Notable residents

  • Birthplace of 7-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Mark Spitz
  • Birthplace of Hull City goalkeeper Boaz Myhill
  • Birthplace, and childhood home of film director, producer, and screenwriter George Lucas, and graduated from Thomas Downey High School, and attended Modesto Junior College.
  • Former residence of Jim Fairchild of the bands Grandaddy and All Smiles
  • Current residence of Nestor John "Sandy" Sander, head of the group assigned to map the subsurface contours of what would become the largest oil field in the world, Ghawar.
  • Current residence of three-time Tony Award winning actress and singer Carol Channing.
  • Current residence of former American football player Lester Hayes
  • Former home of country music singer Chester Smith.
  • Former home of Ann Veneman, sworn in as the 27th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 20, 2001.
  • Tisha Venturinia, National Team: Member of the Gold Medal winning U.S. Women's National Team at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
  • Harve Presnell, actor. He was born in Modesto in 1933 and is a graduate of Modesto High School.
  • Frank Mancini, he was the award-winning band director at Modesto High School, helped found the Modesto Symphony Orchestra and the Stanislaus County Boys Band. Mancini Bowl in Graceada Park is named after him.
  • Jack Elam, 1919 to 2003, actor, epitome of the bad guy in films. Elam, once attended Modesto Junior College and had a brother who taught there for many years.
  • Kentucky Wildcat and Houston Rocket basketball player Chuck Hayes

See also



  • Stanislaus County General Plan, (1987)
  • John Torrey, Paul Awosika et al., Expanded initial study, Boulder Creek subdivision, Stanislaus County, Earth Metrics, Report 7999: California State Clearinghouse, Sacramento, November, 1989.

External links

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