One of downtown Modesto’s most striking — and long vacant — buildings is going to be transformed into a high-end steakhouse.
The site at the corner of 10th and I streets across from the Gallo Center for the Arts was most recently home to World Savings and then Wachovia Bank before it closed. Now after about a decade sitting empty, a valley businessman plans to turn it into a dedicated steakhouse while retaining its unique architectural attributes.
“This building, the location and the structure of this building is phenomenal,” said Oakdale-based entrepreneur Jaime Jimenez, who had previously worked in the cattle industry for 20 years. “I love it. I love the architectural side of it, the design of it, and the people of Modesto.”
Jimenez sold his two companies, J&M Wholesale Meat and Imperial Foods, last month. Now he is turning his attention to downtown Modesto with the steakhouse and another 10th Street project, a new fitness center about to begin renovations less than a block away.
Jimenez is in the process of buying the former bank building, and hopes to have the new steakhouse up and running by late this year, early next year. Once ready, it will serve everything from classic cuts like filet mignon, porterhouses and prime rib to more exclusive selections like Wagyu and Kobe beef. Jimenez also plans to transform the bank’s former vault to a dry-aging room for steaks.
Built in 1965, the two-story, 13,000-square-foot building is considered a shining example of modernist classic architecture. It’s been a frequent part of the Modesto Architecture Festival, a stop on guided and self-guided tours. It opened as the Modesto Savings and Loan and was designed by Stockton architectural firm Mortensen & Hollstien.
Some of the building’s other unique design features will be incorporated into the new restaurant. The mezzanine level, which was formerly filled with offices and suites, will now include an upstairs bar, a wine room, banquet space and a cigar lounge.
The lower level will have an open plan with the main dining room, the kitchen and a large bar along one wall. Jimenez will also keep the building’s long, swooping staircase, though the railing will likely be updated. The interior will have a glitzy look with gold, red and black accents and new chandeliers. Once completed, the site should have a capacity for 300 to 400 people.
The exterior — with its textured, metallic tile work, high windows and soaring arches — will be kept largely the same. Jimenez hopes to incorporate some dramatic additions like fire walls outside, utilizing the long exterior planter along its I Street side.
Business partner James Madrid, who will serve as general manager of the restaurant, said the idea is to update the feel and service of an old-world steakhouse.
“We want to bring it back to the old style of (servers) remembering names, asking ‘How are you tonight?’ and just make a really good experience in downtown Modesto,” Madrid said. “We want it to be a place you want to go. This is a perfect spot for downtown.”
Plans have yet to be submitted to the city for the renovations and work. Renderings for the design should be done soon. If approved, initial work could begin this summer, including removing old asbestos and building out a brand new kitchen.
The restaurant’s somewhat unusual name, W. Stuart C. Steakhouse, honors Jimenez’s great-grandfather — William Stuart Cunningham. He immigrated from Scotland to New York in the late 1800s and then settled in Mexico’s Baja California in the early 1900s. There he started a successful cattle business.
“Every evening at 6 o’clock, he’d call 200 employees over to the table for dinner,” Jimenez said. “He would blow a conch shell every day at the same time.”
His other downtown project, the health and wellness studio Liv Centers, should be finished before the restaurant. Plans have been approved for a new rooftop deck on the four-story building that was formerly Central Stamp & Coin Co. The project was first announced in late 2017 and after extensive demolition work inside should begin renovations in the next three to four weeks.