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HappyBirthday to the Modesto Arch By Chris Murphy

The Modesto Arch has seen it’s popularity and respect skyrocket recently. Not only has it been proudly guarding the entrance to Modesto, welcoming people to our city for 100 years. Our slogan Water Wealth Contentment Health still stands true today. The arch has been celebrated, moved, and visited by people from around the world. Not only that, it was visited by aliens in it’s most famous intergallactic appearance in the animated Dreamworks film Monsters Vs. Aliens. Recently, when there was even a whisper about changing the slogan on the beloved arch, Modestans rushed to defend our wonderful welcome icon. March 9, 1912 was the actual dedication date and this month, we celebrate the Modesto Arch with history from McHenry Museum director Wayne Mathes and with artistic interpretations fromlocal artists.

The Modesto Arch By: Wayne Mathes

The Modesto arch was erected in 1912 as a way to promote Modesto to the motorists driving highway 99 and to the citizens of California. Its photograph or illustration became a part of promotional materials touting the virtues of living in and around Modesto. Today, it uniquely symbolizes the hopes of Modesto of the past and its promises of the future.

In 1911, the Booster Club of the Modesto Business Men’s Association, which later became the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, obtained the approval of Modesto’s City Council to construct an “Ornamental and Electric Arch” over I street where it crosses 9th street. The slogan for the arch was determined by a contest. It was limited to four words. First prize of $5 went to “Nobody’s Got Modesto’s Goat” However, due to some opposition, the second slogan: “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” was chosen. It was submitted by postman Sam R. Harbaugh, who won $3.

The arch, designed by Bernard Joseph of San Francisco, is constructed of steel and anchored by two columns composed of bricks and mortar and covered with a scored stucco to look like stone. It is 75 feet wide, 25 feet tall at its highest point with 12 foot columns at each end. Atop the columns were two flag poles which then would bring the height to some 30 feet. They were removed at a later time probably due to rot. It is illuminated with 348 light bulbs on each side. In 1934 it was moved to the west to accommodate the widening of 9th Street.

The original slogan was intended to read “water wealth” as one phrase meaning an abundance of water and then contentment, and health. Today, that subtlety has been lost. In the 1960s, there were some who wanted it demolished. Fortunately, that did not happen and now there is an effort to restore it back to its original glory for it 100th birthday this year. It was dedicated on March 9, 1912.

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