The "Yesteryears" item on Page B-1 of the Oct. 6 issue of The Bee had an interesting reference to the good old days of a century ago.
It stated that a "ladies' tailoring company" had moved into "handsome quarters" in the Modesto Theatre building at 912 10th St.
This generates two questions: What was a "ladies' tailoring company" and what was the meaning of the statement "handsome quarters" in the Modesto Theatre building?
The mention of a local business that catered to women's tailoring probably reflected the fact that, in the good old days, Modesto women made many of their clothing purchases in small shops. Most were downtown, such as Hammett's and Priester's on 10th Street and Lee's and Dorothy's on J Street. All featured high-quality, often brand-name merchandise.
Several seamstresses in town made garments to order, often for special occasions such as weddings, receptions and graduations.
The tragic sinking of the Titanic on April 19, 1912, had a worldwide impact on women's fashions, even locally in what was sometimes called "little Modesto" because of its small size compared with some other major valley towns.
Described as being in the Edwardian period of women's wear, this era featured the use of corsets and petticoats, often purchased locally at Schackelford Ulman's and Loeb's, both on 10th Street.
After the disaster, sketches of some of the gowns worn by affluent Titanic passengers appeared in newspapers and magazines, styles later copied by manufacturers that produced moderately priced clothing. Dresses tended to be long and slender, usually worn with wide-brimmed hats. The hats frequently were adorned with filigree such as ribbons, lace and feathers.
In Modesto, such hats could skillfully be produced by milliners such as Minnie Dunning, whose small shop, called Miss Dunning's, was on 10th Street.
Even the men were included in this "Titanic mania," especially for dressy occasions. Featured were tuxedo-style suits, white bow ties, black top hats and highly polished black shoes. These probably were available at Plato's and the Toggery mensware stores in Modesto.
The remainder of The Bee's "Yesteryears" item, about the Modesto Theatre building on 10th Street, leads to an interesting story. It begins with the 1866 birth of William Mensinger in Camanche, Iowa; his early Iowa schooling; the death of his father during his youth; and his great success in farming and the raising and marketing of livestock. By the time he arrived in Modesto in 1901, he had accrued $50,000, ultimately becoming a prosperous rancher and land developer.
In 1912, Mensinger built an elegant three-story theater and office building on 10th between I and J streets. It was these handsome new offices that were referred to in the "Yesteryears" feature.
Called the Modesto Theatre, the building was praised for its 34-foot stage and ornate lobby paneled in Alaskan marble. Reportedly costing $85,000, it seated 900 and was a success until December 1913, when the interior was destroyed by fire.
Mensinger immediately rebuilt the structure, which was rededicated in July 1914.
Although the Modesto Theatre was destroyed again by fire in 1933, it is not gone.
Standing in front of the Gallo Center for the Arts on I Street, and looking toward 10th Street, up and to the right, you can see the large proscenium arch that was over the theater's staging area. Amazingly, it has survived at least two fires and is still visible after almost 100 years.
Note: Several members of the Mensinger family live in Modesto, including William's grandsons, John and Stewart Mensinger, who run the American Lumber Co.
Bare is the author of several books about area history and the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.