20th Century Timeline: 1951 - 2000


  • Modesto’s second high school opens. The school bears the name of Modesto High’s first principal, Thomas Downey.


  • Mike Piccinini and Nick Tocco open their first Save Mart Supermarket in Modesto on Crows Landing Road.
  • In October, Richard Nixon speaks at Courthouse Park while running for vice president.


  • McHenry Village opens north of town on McHenry Avenue. It is the first major shopping center to move businesses away from downtown.


  • Stanislaus County celebrates its Centennial.
  • Look Magazine names Modesto an All-America City. The city wins the award again in 1972.


  • B&T Market on H Street is renamed Angelo’s Market. Angelo’s had originally been the San Francisco Fruit Market.


  • Modesto opens its third public high school. The school is named after educator Grace M. Davis.


  • Modesto population is 36,585.
  • The new, red brick City Hall opens on the site of the old Hotel Modesto at 11th and H Streets.
  • Senator John F. Kennedy stops in Modesto while campaigning for the presidency on September 8.


  • Many homes built between 5th and 6th Streets are razed for construction of a Highway 99 freeway bypass. The sunken, six-lane roadway disrupts much of the neighborhood feel of this part of Modesto.


  • The World Series comes to Modesto for a day in October when the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees take batting practice at Del Webb Field.


  • Modesto’s first private Catholic high school, Central Catholic, is founded. A campus is eventually constructed on Carpenter Road, near Maze Boulevard.


  • The Briggsmore Theatre opens on McHenry Avenue on April 26. The first film is The Sound of Music, which will play for 14 weeks in 70mm and six-track stereo sound.


  • Robert F. Kennedy stops to speak at the Modesto Southern Pacific Train Station on May 30th during a whistle-stop tour while campaigning for president.
  • Paul Tischer creates Modesto Youth Theatre and stages a production of The Boyfriend. The company will eventually become known as Modesto Performing Arts (MPA).
  • Movie and television actor Timothy Olyphant is born in Modesto on May 20.
  • County Superintendent of Schools Fred C. Beyer and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Howard are killed in an airplane crash near Pacheco Pass on November 20.


  • Modesto population is 61,712.
  • Modesto celebrates its Centennial.


  • The McHenry Library, built in 1912, is replaced by the new Stanislaus County Library, located on I Street. The McHenry Library becomes the McHenry Museum.


  • On November 27, Ernest and Julio Gallo appear on the cover of Time magazine. Their winery is extolled as the largest, privately owned winery in the world.
  • Modesto opens its third public high school and names it for the late Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools, Fred C. Beyer.


  • American Graffiti makes filmgoers around the world aware of “cruisin’” in Modesto.


  • The Modesto Bee and News-Herald abbreviates the name on its masthead to The Modesto Bee.


  • The Julio R. Gallo Foundation purchases the McHenry Mansion and gives it to the City of Modesto. After years of use as an apartment house, it is to become a museum.


  • Sears and Penney’s flee downtown to relocate in the new regional shopping center, Vintage Faire, located near Highway 99 in North Modesto. The indoor mall opens in March.
  • George Lucas’ Star Wars has a gala opening at the Briggsmore Theatre. The theatre installs a new Dolby sound system for the occasion.


  • Modesto population is 106,963.


  • The McHenry Mansion is opened to the public.
  • Professional opera star Erik “Buck” Townsend establishes Townsend Opera Company in his hometown.
  • George Lucas appears on the cover of Time magazine on May 23rd for an article about Return of the Jedi. The Star Wars universe has been featured on several Time covers.


  • As talk of refurbishing begins, a fire destroys the 63-year-old shuttered Strand Theatre.


  • Modesto Center Plaza, a downtown convention hall, opens on March 3rd with a gala, “Bob Hope In Person.”


  • Modesto population is 164,730.


  • Modesto’s fourth high school opens. It is named after former mayor Peter Johansen.


  • Julio Gallo, innovative winemaker and co-founder of E.&J. Gallo Winery, dies in a jeep accident.


  • The Hotel Covell is placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.


  • The Hotel Hughson, Hotel Covell and Covell Theatre, long abandoned, are demolished to make room for Tenth Street Place, a building housing a new city hall and county administration offices.


  • The 18-screen Brenden Theatre complex opens on the location of the former Montgomery Ward Department Store and Strand Theatre.
  • Modesto gains national notoriety because of the Sund-Carrington murder case, as news reporters descend on the town to cover the “Yosemite Murders.”


  • Modesto population is 188,856.

Mike Piccinini and Nick Tocco open Save Mart Supermarket on Crows Landing Road. Over the years it expands to include Lucky, S-Mart and FoodMax in Northern California and Nevada.

It was all about running for the vice presidency of the United States in 1952 when Richard Nixon spoke at Courthouse Park. The future vice president and president highlighted the dangers of communism in the world during his speech.

Modesto is named an All America City by Look Magazine in 1954. It is the first time for the honor, but will be repeated again in later years. A banner hanging from the Arch, above, proclaims the distinction.

In September, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy's whistlestop tour comes through Modesto, where he speaks to a throng of local citizens. The police officer in the photo is Leroy Applequist.

Modesto's first new movie theater since 1934 opened in 1967 on McHenry Avenue. The Briggsmore Theatre was state-of-the-art with 70mm and six track stereo. First film was "The Sound of Music," which ran for 14 weeks.

Weinstock's Department Store was one of the original tenants of Vintage Faire Mall when it opened in 1977. The enclosed mall also took Penney's and Sears from downtown. This building now houses Forever 21.

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