I’ve dwelled in Modesto for over a quarter of a century, arriving as a naive Easterner from Boston with a very skewed perception of California. While local old-timers probably will grin at this retrospective, having seen far more dramatic changes, it’s been fascinating to see the region’s evolution (or not). So, here’s an outside-in viewpoint of my Top 10 observations.
1. Drought – When we arrived, we were partway into a five-year drought. Back then, restaurants proudly displayed table cards indicating they would serve water only upon request, as part of their effort to conserve. I haven’t seen one this time yet. I also observed more people letting lawns go brown 25 years ago; haven’t seen that either.
2. Size – There were virtually no buildings between the Briggsmore overpass and Vintage Faire mall. At Kiernan and Dale was the delightful Vella’s farm stand. An additional 75,000-plus residents have expanded Modesto’s footprint to Kiernan, which is busy turning into a crosstown expressway. Vella’s is long gone. City sprawl has become a Stanislaus County hallmark.
3. Safety – Nobody had a home security system – and raised their eyebrows when we remarked on it. Open doors and windows at night were the norm. Now virtually every home I pass is alarmed – and sealed tight at night.
4. Neighborhood interaction – I almost never see kids playing in their front yards these days, and it’s common to walk several miles and rarely see anyone outside – even on a beautiful day. In my early years here, the neighborhoods were filled with happy noise, people out walking and neighbors interacting. Where is everybody?
5. McMansions – We live in an older neighborhood where many homes are single stories on larger lots and trees abound, creating a wonderful open feeling. Now, more and more of these older homes are being bought, demolished and huge two-story homes are being jammed onto the property. With no “neighborhood” building regulations, charming old enclaves are disappearing.
6. Downtown Modesto – Woolworth’s was still on 10th Street, one of the last vestiges of the original downtown, along with an assortment of antique shops. Today’s downtown is wrestling with its redefinition and how to attract people.
7. Culture – We had to drive to Sonora for performances and shows that we enjoyed. Today, from the Gallo Center to YES Company to the Modesto Symphony, the region boasts a thriving cultural scene.
8. Heritage fun – Then and now the fairs and events that date back decades are a delightful hallmark of our region, a throwback to the concept of community celebration. And they continue to expand with such delicious themes as Oakdale’s Chocolate Festival and Riverbank’s Cheese & Wine Exposition.
9. Taste of the Valley – Farmers’ markets have proliferated since we arrived, though most have evolved more into hybrid craft and food markets. I boast to everyone about the amazing array of produce our Valley produces – and out-of-town guests are jealous at the quality and taste.
10. Speech – “American” is a language with many dialects, and the Central Valley is no different. Nobody says “Frisco” (that’s an Easterner talking). “Ape-ricots” and “amonds” (because we shake the “L” out of them), are among the many words and accents that have altered my vocabulary.
All places change, for better or worse. Here’s wondering what the next decades will bring to us.
Newcorn is a marketing consultant, author and freelance writer. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.