Tracy has the Grand Theatre for the Arts. Stockton has the Haggin Museum. Turlock has the Carnegie Arts Center. Modesto has the Mistlin Gallery. And Manteca has its downtown murals.

When it comes to art displays nobody in the 209 has a bigger arts venue or larger canvasses than Manteca.

The Manteca Mural Society has brought 32 wall murals to the heart of Manteca since 2002. The last mural completed was the “Mossdale Crossing” on the side of the Spin Cycle in the 100 block of East Yosemite. The mural depicts the last physical link to allow the transcontinental railroad to be completed on Sept. 8, 1869.  

And if you add the murals advanced arts students have completed since 1996 that grace the walls of the downtown Manteca High campus, the overall number is in excess of 150 murals. In addition there are four Manteca Mural Society commissioned murals at the Manteca Senior Center.

While the Manteca High murals require you trying to make special arrangements to tour the campus to see them, the downtown murals can be viewed during a pleasant walking tour loop covering the equivalent of 12 blocks. It is an ideal diversion given pandemic rules now in place.

Each mural tells its own story. They speak volumes about Manteca, its people, and the community’s place in the world.

The murals are the result of a methodical planning process that solicits commissioned small scale prototypes for each mural that has lured muralists from as far away as Ireland and has brought professionals whose works grace walls in Europe, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and even exclusive villas to Manteca.

While the work is priceless, together they represent almost a $900,000 investment by the community in public art. The biggest endeavor — a series of five murals honoring local ties to World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Global War on Terror — represent an investment of $125,000.

The veterans murals — just like all the others — capture unique Manteca touches while having universal elements that have resonated with visitors viewing the murals who had never been to Manteca before.

The faces in the World War II mural are of actual Manteca residents who served as is the case with the Korean War mural.

The World War I mural used current Manteca residents as models.

The veterans’ murals stand guard at the Yosemite Avenue and Main Street intersection at what is still the heart of the city on the side of the 103-year-old IOOF Building that now houses Manteca Bedquarters.

To the south is the first mural dedicated in 2003 on the side of Century Furniture. The 20-by-78-foot “Crossroads” mural depicts what you would have seen looking at what is now downtown Manteca from a bench across the street 103 years ago. As a whimsical touch muralist Dave Gordon included a mural in the mural.

The “Cruising” mural —a 14-by-138-foot creation adorning the wall of Accent Carpets in the 100 block of North Main Street — recreates the 1960s cruise on Yosemite Avenue from The Patio Drive-in (where Johnny’s Restaurant is now located) past Manteca High and the El Rey Theatre to Main Street. Everything in the mural from the faces to the cars belongs to Mantecans of that era including Manteca Police officer Tillie Del Nero who would keep the eye on the Saturday night action. He’s seen in the mural leaning against a light post with his signature cigarette drooping from his mouth. There are also hidden gems such as personalized license plates that have special meaning to the cruisers of an era gone by. The beauty of “Cruising” is that it jars pleasant memories for people viewing it with no ties to Manteca.

Several of the murals are community projects where volunteers teamed up with a professional muralist to complete the work. One such mural is “Manteca Snow” on Manteca Avenue across from Library Park. It depicts an almond orchard in bloom with delicate white and pink blossoms gracing a vibrant carpet of green grass with two boys and a girl frolicking in the falling blossoms that’s all framed by a massive window.

You will find five murals in Library Park including the baseball mural depicting a ball game back in the 1920s when Library Park was the site of the city baseball diamond where  town teams from up and down the valley competed including Turlock, Modesto, Patterson, Tracy, and Lodi to name a few.

The 7.5-by-95 foot mural is filled with 100 plus local faces and even includes a train passing by just as you may encounter today visiting Library Park for a farmers market or some other gathering around the gazebo. While at Library Park check out the interactive water play feature with history, geography, culture and native people touches into its design.

Two of the remaining murals are wedded with miniature plazas.

The Rotary mural in the 100 block of South Maple has benches, a water fountain and trees while the “Sierra Crown” mural — a large watercolor of Yosemite Valley on the side of the PG&E office faces a plaza created with boulders and brushed concrete to create the illusion of the Merced River flowing out of the mural in front of the Legion Hall at 220 East Yosemite.

The Manteca Mural Society was inspired by Tom and Gayl Wilson’s vacation two decaded ago on Vancouver Island in British Columbia when they discovered the drawing power of murals.

It was in a town where the lumber industry had been the major economic engine before its decline. One store owner commissioned a mural depicting the dying industry. Another store owner followed suit. Eventually there were more than a dozen.

The murals ended up becoming a big drawing card for the town and the merchants revamped their business to cater to the tourist trade.

Ultimately, the mural society wants to do the same thing for downtown Manteca by making it a major draw for visitors. The murals are also being pursued to promote community pride as well as to showcase Manteca’s culture, agriculture, and economy.