The heart of downtown Tracy harkens to a lot of nostalgia. One of those nostalgic elements that draws people to this central part of town is the historic Lincoln Highway.
Sadly, only a small sign tacked onto a traffic light pole along 11th Street points to that historical high-water mark. The white all-upper case letters against a rust-colored background about the size of an 8/10 picture frame simply reads “HISTORIC DOWNTOWN.”
Once upon a time, downtown Tracy was bisected by the historic Lincoln Highway that ran across the mid-section of the continental United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific; hence, the mute reminder coming from the small unobtrusive street sign.
It was America’s love affair with the automobile that gave birth to the Lincoln Highway during the second decade of the 20th century, in much the same way that Route 66 did in the 1920s. It’s easy to imagine the traffic that ran a century ago through this part of town whose annual festival celebration – Tracy’s Bean Festival – points to its rich agricultural heritage. There’s still a lot of vehicular traffic along this historic route today, but along with it is the human traffic that descends upon this downtown area in central Tracy for a host of reasons – to browse through the unique small shops, taste test the array of culinary offerings from a number of dining destinations that range from Thai and Chinese to the good old American staples like hamburgers and hotdogs, catch a concert featuring world-renowned performances at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, or to enjoy the artistic creations of local and out-of-town artists at the same venue.
Tracy has joined a number of cities like its neighbor, Livermore, on the other side of the Altamont, which have made a lot of effort in the form of fiscal investments toward the revival of their once-crumbling old downtowns. In Tracy, this is clearly evidenced by the extensive remodeling done on a number of buildings, foremost of which is the Grand Theater Center for the Arts. This project is under the city’s Cultural Arts Division in the City Manager’s office and receives an annual budget which, two years ago, was $1.5 million. That money allocation, however, includes other things outside the Grand Theater programs and activities such as public art projects and maintaining city archives.
Located on Central Avenue, at the corner of Sixth Street, the 37,000-square-foot Grand Theater is a perfect example of what city redevelopment can do to revitalize historically rich but commercially dying downtown. It was renovated to the tune of $19 million in capital improvement funds.
City officials describe it as a “gift back to the community.” Since its opening in 2007, the Grand Theatre has been averaging 45,000 to 50,000 visitors a year with about 60 percent of them comprised of local residents. And, despite the economic downturn in recent years on top of budget cutbacks due to the recent Great Recession, the success of this Grand Theatre project continues to grow and thrive.
It goes without saying all that economic and tourist-related success is spilling over to the commercial success of downtown Tracy.
Both longtime Tracy residents, like Barbara Fitzpatrick, and new transplants like Candace Owlings and Jessica Rodriguez only have good words to say about the downtown area.
“We never had troubles. I don’t see anything bad about downtown Tracy,” said Fitzpatrick who, with her husband, owned and operated the Tracy Glass Store that they started in 1946. It was located on Sixth Street, just a shouting distance away from the Grand Theatre. The store, which was the only one of its kind for decades in Tracy, has had three owners since they sold it after they retired. Fitzpatrick has been manager of the McHenry House Store a block away from the Grand Theatre for 26 years. It’s a thrift store that raises money for the McHenry House Family Shelter.
She has only one regret, if that. Many Tracy residents don’t seem to patronize the varied shopping and recreational attractions, among other things, that downtown offers, she noted.
“People who moved here from over the hill (Altamont) don’t come downtown. They don’t get involved (in the community). I think they’re just too tired when they get home” from work in the Bay area,” Fitzpatrick said.
They don’t know what they are missing, she added.
There are plenty of nice places to go to in downtown Tracy, she said. “There’s a Thai Café across the street. It’s really good.” There are other restaurants in the vicinity including several Chinese dining places that are just as good, she said.
Owlings and Rodriguez both agreed with Fitzpatrick’s sentiments about downtown Tracy. Owlings grew up in Tracy but now lives in Manteca. Rodriguez, on the other hand, lives in Manteca and graduated from Manteca High in 2007, but now calls Tracy home after her marriage.
“(Downtown Tracy) is really nice. That’s what draws us to downtown. The Thai Café is amazing,” Owlings said as she and Rodriguez sat in one of the downtown metal benches to catch the sun near the Eleventh and Sixth Street intersection where a traffic calming round-about with a well-tended landscaping and a larger-than-life metal sculpture of a farmer and railroad worker in the center mark the entrance to the historic downtown from this end.
Rodriguez wholeheartedly agreed with her friend, saying, “It’s a nice downtown. I like all the little shops.”
She added, laughing, “The baby doesn’t complain either!” casting a smiling glance at her sleeping daughter in a stroller in front of them.