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The Scene

The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)
The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)

Hollywood had nothing on Modesto Thursday night -- not the glamour, not the gowns and not the amazing entertainment.

Arts patrons decked in their finest attire celebrated what was repeatedly referred to in various forms as the greatest night the city has seen.

"I think we grew up tonight," former Mayor Carol Whiteside said outside the Gallo Center for the Arts as celebrants arrived for the grand-opening gala. "It's not the Modesto we're used to seeing."

Whiteside was among those who noted how happy people seemed as they milled about the plaza outside the center. "It's such a feeling of goodwill," she said.

Indeed, smiles and hugs were a constant as people made their way from the entrance at 11th and I streets into the lavish affair. By

6:45 p.m., the area was a stream of gowns, cocktail dresses and tuxedos.

Tables covered in black cloths peppered the plaza. The nearby staging area for the caterers -- who would provide dinner after the Modesto Symphony and Broadway star Patti LuPone completed their performances -- also featured black-clothed tables, those decorated with topiaries, white roses and lilies.

"It's wonderful," one patron was overheard commenting to a friend.

"I like the fashion show the best," said another.

Indeed, the fashions were dazzling -- truly befitting a red-carpet affair.

Black was the color of choice for many women and almost all of the men. Some, however chose to go in color, including reds, purples, blues and yellows. Several were adorned with beading, sequins, lace and other details.

"Everybody looks so beautiful," said Susan Filippi, a Gallo Center trustee and part of the special-events committee that helped put together the event.

Filippi was won of several people who said they were having a great time simply watching people walk by.

"Oh my gosh, that's the winner," one fashion-watcher said as a woman made her way in wearing a stunning off-the-shoulder gown of red silk imprinted with soft black roses.

The woman in the rose-covered ensemble was Martha Connor of Modesto, who was as thrilled by the compliment as she was to be part of the evening.

"Fabulous. Spectacular," Connor said of the event.

The interior of the Gallo center was as lavish as the exterior as wait staff made their way through the crowd serving wine and champagne and the Starlight Express provided musical accompaniment.

Some patrons gathered along the two balconies above the main lobby, doing their people-watching from the air.

Mainly, the crowd was in the mood to celebrate.

"I just think it's a fantastic evening, a really wonderful event. I'm just happy to be here," Donna Pierce of Turlock said as she watched the crowd mingle. "I was going to be part of (this night) if I had to go see it on the Jumbotron."

City Councilman Brad Hawn said he was having a hard time expressing in words how special an evening it was.

"I'm just now realizing," he joked, "that this is actually happening in Modesto."

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