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Mo-town treasures just a drive away
The McHenry Mansion was built in 1883 by Robert McHenry, a prominent local rancher/banker, and is a fine example of the Victorian Italianate style of architecture. The mansion is currently closed to visitors due to repairs from a December 2011 fire. - photo by Kristina Hacker

MODESTO - In 1912, the city of Modesto held a contest to pick the slogan that would adorn an arch spanning the entrance to the Valley town. “Nobody’s Got Modesto’s Goat” was the winner. I’m sure residents of today’s seat of Stanislaus County are extremely grateful that prior city leaders decided to go with the second place winner — “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health.”

The arch — which draws both cheers and jeers from Modestans — is a testament to the city’s past and touts the ideals that are still at the heart of today’s growing Modesto. It is also the perfect place to begin a driving tour of Modesto highlights.

To get to the arch, take Highway 99 and take the Central Modesto exit. From Manteca and areas north of Modesto, merge onto 5th Street and then turn left onto I Street. From Turlock and areas south of Modesto, merge onto 6th Street, turn right onto G Street, take the third left onto 9th Street and then turn right onto I Street.

Shortly after passing under the arch — which is currently undergoing renovations — one of Modesto’s newest and most ambitious ventures can be seen on the right side of the road, the Gallo Center for the Arts. Since it opened in September 2007, the Gallo Center has hosted top-flight entertainers, from comedians, to bands and Broadway shows, while also providing a state-of-the-art performance hall for the area’s many talented local troupes.

The Gallo Center for the Arts houses two performance venues, the 1250-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Family Theater. Each is a proscenium theater with a legitimate stage and fly loft. Both theaters have orchestra pits, stage aprons, and scene docks, and are equipped with modern audio-visual, rigging, drapery, lighting control, orchestra pit lift, and orchestra shell systems, allowing a wide range of acoustical, scenic and staging manipulation.

Tours of the Gallo are offered every Thursday at 3 p.m. If you traveled far to reach Modesto, this would be a good time get out and stretch while getting an up-close look at modern concert and theatre architecture. Parking is available in a structure located one block northeast of the theaters. Currently, parking is $5, cash only.

The tours are free and no reservations are needed, however, it’s wise to call ahead because occasionally the tours are cancelled due to special events. To call for tour information, or to purchase tickets to an upcoming show, call 338-2100.

After touring a jewel of Modesto’s current entertainment scene, it’s time to return to the town’s past. On the corner of I and 14th streets is the McHenry Museum.

From its day of dedication, July 4, 1972, the McHenry Museum has been a memorial to the many people who pioneered this unique area. The McHenry Museum building was originally the city library and was given to the City of Modesto in 1912 by the Oramil McHenry family. The museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Docent tours can be scheduled by phoning the Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department at 577-5344.

Travel one block east on I Street and turn left on 15th Street — on the left is the McHenry Mansion.

The mansion was built in 1883 by Robert McHenry, a prominent local rancher/banker, and is a fine example of the Victorian Italianate style of architecture. In 1923, it was converted into apartments and remained as such until 1976, when the Julio R. Gallo Foundation purchased it and donated it to the City of Modesto for restoration and for community use.

The mansion is currently under construction to repair damage caused by a fire in December 2011. Tours of the inside of the mansion will not resume until after Jan. 1, 2013.

Continue down 15th to the end of the block and then turn left onto J Street. Just a block and a half down the road is The State Theatre. The State Theatre sits at the center of Modesto’s revitalized downtown with its mix of office and retail space, restaurants, art galleries, civic centers, clubs and other sites of cultural and historic significance. The art deco themed theatre was built in 1934 and opened on Christmas Day. Today, the theatre line-up includes a mix of classic films and live performances. To view upcoming shows, visit

The next stop on the Modesto driving tour leads to  1929 era construction. Head southwest on J Street, then take the first right onto 13th Street. Take the second right onto L Street. Travel one and half blocks down L Street and then take a left onto Needham Street. Once on Needham, take the third left onto Magnolia. On the left side of the road will be Hawke Castle. This castle was built in 1929 by Ed Hawke, manager of JC Penny in Modesto. It is a replica of a Norman castle.

Continue north on Magnolia to view some of the first homes in Modesto. At the first intersection, turn right onto Alice Street. Take Alice until you reach Modesto’s most famous drag strip — McHenry Avenue.

Take a right on McHenry, and less than half a mile down the road on the right is Minnie’s Restaurant. Minnie’s, a Chinese restaurant and bar, has been a Modesto landmark for decades. The restaurant is one of the few remaining houses located on McHenry from when it was still agricultural land.

One of the most unique characteristics of the restaurant is the number of tikis. These hand-carved statues give the Chinese restaurant a distinctly island feel.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of tikis and chow mien, follow McHenry to the “five points” intersection. Take J Street all the way down until it dead-ends at 9th Street. Turn left on 9th and travel one block to I Street. Turn right onto I Street, and go three blocks. The Highway 99 on-ramps are accessible from 6th Street (for north) and 5th Street (for south).

— KRISTINA HACKER / 209 reporter