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BigView – Rebuilding and Rejuvenation

By Chris Murphy

The 1990s delivered a lot of change to Modesto. Most of it for the good but some that would kneecap one of our greatest and most famous traditions. As our Graffiti Summer and the cruise got bigger and cruisers and famous rockers came from all over the world, the City of Modesto stamped it all out with an anti- cruising ordinance, as the LA Times put it, “it’s like Pamploma Spain banning running with the bulls”. The last big Graffiti Night was 1993, captured on film by Al Golub. All of the sudden, people would no longer speak about the thing that made Modesto famous. It would take years to turn this around with the N Modesto Kiwanis creating the American Graffiti Festival in 1998 and we started our engines again.

Modesto decided to start its engines again in the 1990s. After the big businesses left downtown in the 70s, downtown suffered in the 80s and in the 90s, a downtown renaissance was planned and with the guidance of Modesto City Manager Ed Tewes, County CEO Regan Wilson and a Modesto City Council lead by Mayor Dick Lang, this would be the time to bring business back to downtown and rebuild while Nancy Young and the Modesto DID helped keep the businesses going.

Rejuvenation started in 1994 when upstart restaurant named Tresetti’s (Paul Tremayne and Mitch and Tammy Maisetti) World Café brought fine dining and fine wine to 11th St. and John Griswold and the Downtown Arts Project would restore and reopen the State Theatre, Modesto’s last great movie house. The lights of downtown begin to flicker on and things started happening. I later had the privilege of serving as the State Theatre President and am so very grateful to the many donors and volunteers that kept this theatre alive and brought it back to life. A group of citizens, of which I was one, banded together to great GIFT, Graceada is Fun Time to rebuild the long neglected playgrounds of Graceada Park and after a city wide fundraising campaign, the new playground, splash pad and mini Mancini bowl was dedicated in 1999 and family fun returned to our central park.

Rebuilding saw the demolition in 1998 of the two last remaining grand dame buildings in downtown, the Hotel Hughson and the Hotel Covell, long since closed, movie screens dark and even the basement Fable Room that became Dazzles Underground was silent. Soon a new theatre would be built on the footprint of the Strand Theatre and soon the new 10th St Place and the Plaza outside would become home to new events and new life spread across downtown ready for the 2000s. A new music scene was bubbling up, with new places to play and a community that embraced live music, it was truly a time of positive change that is still in process today.

1990s Reflections
by Steve Perry

October of 1989, I was honorably discharged from Pearl Harbor, HI finishing 4 years of active service. Returning home, was easy, and marvelous. Happy to see friends like Peter and Stuart Mah at Minnie’s and Mitch Maisetti, at Tiki. You could even buy a pen, that had a car that would slide back and forth between the places.

Re-entering MJC, in the Ag Program, because I wanted to work for Gallo, I reconnected with some family friends. I discovered that there was a very strong new country music movement. The 90’s sent a huge wave of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, The Judds, The Mavericks, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakum, Brooks and Dunn, Toby Keith, Diamond Rio, Clint Black, George Strait and who could forget, Garth Brooks. Night time in Modesto, was spent at Early Dawn Cattle Co. often listening to Tommy Warren. Claudia Streeter and Tom Drinnon were making legitimate pokes at the big time, fueled by Scott Simon and Mr. Wonderful, Dave Holmes at KAT Country, with 2 other country stations at that moment.

Other parts of the world, Nirvana, was breaking into everyone’s life, including mine. I remember watching Smells Like Teen Spirit on MTV. I hated every visual, but the music was real and addictive along with Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. I was hooked. It was an amazing bridge, where big hair, was getting shoved out the front door, along with mainstream rock bands, in favor of plaid, and usually somewhat down from happy good times. But real, gritty and to the point rock n roll. In Modesto, while the local bands were still rocking, a new music emerged with the introverted and super-musical Graddaddy coming on to the scene in 1992 and 1993. Jason Lytle’s lyrics, many referencing local landmarks and people, would become popular around the world. Jason along with Jim Fairchild, Aaron Burtch, Tim Dreyden and Kevin Garcia would be Modesto’s most famous, and critically acclaimed musical export in Modesto’s history.

The 80’s stars, lost a whole lot of traction in this era. The industry, had found a new course. There were some true survivors; Whitney Houston, Beastie Boys, & REM found relevance, and were locally played. In the meantime, traditional rap took new turns and began seeing mainstream airplay, even here in Modesto, CA. Who couldn’t resist Sir Mix A Lot. The Stuart Anderson’s Square Cow Fun Bar, was packed, with folks dancing to, “Baby Got Back”.

Post Cal Poly, SLO, I was pleased to help open Gilligan’s Beach House with my employers; Early Warning Ventures, that already owned and operated, Cactus Jack’s, another great country music spot. Gilligan’s was an ambitious spot. 18,000 sf of bar featuring an indoor volleyball court. We entertained acts such as; Stephen Stills, Doug Supernaw, The Beat Farmers, Rick Derringer, Neil McCoy, Bellamy Brothers and a whole lot more. One of the most fun any young person could have. The serious jobs came after this. But man, it was fun…

The 1990’s got off to a weird start, beginning with double digit unemployment that would haunt us most of the decade. February 6, 1990 we were in the Los Angeles Times as cruising had been banned. For those of us that were not 21 years old yet, this was devastating, as it was one of the few activities that were available to them. This was done with a very concerned City Council, lead by Mayor Carol Whiteside largely to protect neighbors from noise, trash left behind and the general nuisance it had created. Three years later, in 1993, then Mayor Dick Lang and council, ended Graffiti Night. This had been a very large attraction to Modesto for people of all ages essentially gridlocking McHenry to J Street with tens of thousands of spectators lining the streets, and media everywhere showing the automotive spectacle. The closest that you can see today, is the North Modesto Kiwanis annual parade, which celebrates more, historic vehicles. 1999 saw Carmen Sabatino become Mayor, and although at the time, not liking the “roundabout” concept he pushed, actually quite like them these days.

1997 brought us the true beginning of a foundation for the Gallo Center for the Arts. As the View points out, the 80’s was meant to bring such a facility to the Convention Center. A dream unfulfilled a new direction was charted. Although not built until the next decade, the seed was planted. The 90’s also was a charmed period of time where some of our great Downtown restaurants, had their start; Dewz, Concetta, Harvest Moon, Deva and St. Stan’s. On a side note, St. Stan’s was the first microbrewery to take on the King of Beers, alleging that there was a predatory distribution agenda, being forced down from Budweiser to its distributors to not take on other products. 1999 also saw the opening of the Brenden Theater, which returned first run major movies into Downtown. The 90’s also saw the remodeling of the State Theater, returning the iconic theater to it’s grandeur.

We also said goodbye to the Hotel Covell and Hotel Hughson, truly iconic buildings in Modesto. Wine industry legend, Julio Gallo passed, creating a moment of, how well is the succession plan built. In true Gallo style, flawlessly. Although very sad, and in my house, particularly hard on my dad, Gerald Perry, who considered Julio, amongst his best friends.

1996, saw something awesome. Echoing Dot Jones athletic prowess, Downey Alumni, Suzy Powell (Roos), competed in the 1996 Olympics. Although we live in the United States, and we don’t put much energy here, sadly she was akin to Carl Lewis, a true stand out especially in an eastern block ruled sport. She finished at 56.24 m for 33rd. At this time, the eastern block women, were into doping, and historically had been. I saw Suzy her practice while at Downey, I’m know she was very clean and talented. These days, she’s just a marvelous person. The Modesto Relays, sponsored by Save Mart, continued to attract world-class talent and it was amazing to be out and about in Modesto and see Olympic athletes around town, in restaurants and watering holes.

BALCO, Bay Area Laboratory Co Operative, began to surface in local pro sports, especially baseball, which included; Modesto Athletics, Jose Canseco, St. Louis Cardinal’s Mark McGwire and SF Giant, Barry Bonds. The era of doping was beginning ahead of adequate detection. Incredible home runs, great TV, awesome in park experiences, as the pro’s worked to increase their level of success. It was only a tip of the iceberg.

Doping, internationally had spread far and wide. Another notable issue is Lance Armstrong and became an icon of the sport like the other American Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond (who was very vocal about anti-doping), but seemed better. Of course, he was enhancing his performance with a regiment of “nutrition”. Ultimately, the sports world, became very proactive in the balance of the 90’s and has continue to improve, to keep sport more pure. It’s only human nature to want an advantage. Certainly, one will be found. Hopefully, we can keep up in quick order.

Cheers to the great memories and better days ahead!



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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.