It was fortunate that local dogs couldn't read the newspapers in March 1912. Otherwise, they might have been disturbed by a front page headline in the Modesto Morning Herald that said, "All unmuzzled dogs must die."
The ominous warning referred to a new city ordinance established because of an outbreak of rabies in parts of the county. Dogs caught not wearing muzzles were to be held for 24 hours and then, if unclaimed, would be shot by peace officers.
Other than this canine problem, Modesto's teenage years were mostly pleasant and productive. In 1912, several major buildings were under construction or recently had been completed, each contributing to the culture of the community.
The first, called the Auditorium, had a construction deadline established to meet the schedule of the busy Modesto Choral Society, which provided the opening musical program. The multipurpose frame building on the southeast corner of Sixth and I streets boasted a stage that was 6 inches wider than the largest in San Francisco. Built in just two months, the building could seat 1,800 people. Its uses would include concerts, theatrical productions, conventions, rallies and political speeches, with provisions for dancing and skating. According to the newspapers, it was funded by a group of "local capitalists," and its Feb. 12 formal opening was typically grand.
Its debut was a presentation of "Doctor of Alcantara," a Spanish opera described by the Herald as an "unqualified success," with members of the cast receiving rave reviews. Some of their surnames are recognizable today, including Morris, Ulrich, Downey and Wisecarver. A principal dancer, Eva Wren, was the daughter of Modesto's newly elected first mayor, George Wren, and the stage manager was rancher-banker George Stoddard (Stoddard Road, Stoddard Avenue).
Another major 1912 project was a three-story theater and office building completed in August by rancher-businessman William Mensinger. The original news article about the undertaking estimated its cost at $30,000, but others claimed the price tag was closer to $85,000.
Born and raised in Iowa, Mensinger was so successful in farming and stock raising that, by the time he moved to Modesto in 1901, he had more than $50,000, according to historian George H. Tinkham in "History of Stanislaus County."
Michael Mensinger, William's grandson, remembers listening to his grandfather tell stories of his flourishing ventures in young Modesto, including why he chose to build an elegant, 900-seat theater on 10th Street.
"It was because he felt that such a playhouse would benefit and enhance the city," he said, "and my grandfather wanted to repay the community for the opportunities for success that he had received."
Called the Modesto Theatre and located on 10th between I and J streets, it was praised for its 34-foot stage and lobby paneled in Alaskan marble. Its opening production was "Pirates of Penzance," again produced by the Choral Society with George Stoddard as stage manager.
The theater was a resounding success until December 1913, when it burned, destroying the interior.
"The loss of the pretty little playhouse was greatly deplored," wrote Tinkham, and a group of "progressive" men offered to form a rebuilding company.
Mensinger declined, with thanks, and soon started the reconstruction himself, although, said Michael Mensinger, the theater had not been insured. Its second grand opening and dedication occurred July 9, 1914.
Bare is author of several books about area history and the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. E-mail her at email@example.com.