They tried out the theater seats, enjoyed blues bands and munched on free appetizers prepared by downtown restaurants.
More than 2,000 people helped celebrate the launch of Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts at Monday night's free ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony.
The mood was jubilant as people toured the red and brown 1,252-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the gray 444-seat Foster Family Theater.
"The big theater is wonderful," raved Modesto resident Willie Greer as he munched on chicken. "I'm definitely coming to a performance here."
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Ana Menchaca and Daniel Adame of Modesto were simi- larly impressed with the smaller auditorium and sat for a while on the seats, just taking everything in.
"It's very grand," Menchaca said. "I can't put words to it."
The evening began outdoors with the Ceres High School Band marching into the arts center plaza, followed by an hour's worth of songs by local performers and speeches by dignitaries. When it was all over, major supporters cut a bright orange ribbon tied across the building and welcomed the public in.
The event was hosted by Stanislaus County, which owns the $40 million venue and contributed $15 million of the cost. The rest was largely funded by more than 3,400 residents and businesses.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O'Brien called the county's investment in the venue a "great business decision" and said that it will stimulate the economy and add to the local quality of life.
Ray Simon, a former county supervisor, praised the Gallo center as one of the high points of his 38-year career as an elected official.
"There is no finer moment that I have enjoyed than what we are celebrating this evening," he said.
Marie Gallo, president of the Gallo center board, praised the county for staying committed to the project during the 10-year planning process.
"They have been our dream partners from the beginning to this day," she said.
The first full show at Gallo is Townsend Opera Players' gala concert in the Foster Theater on Sunday. The arts center's grand opening gala is Sept. 27.