Manteca, 148 miles south of Chico on Highway 99, is on the route motorists have traveled for years from the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park.

photo by Leslie Layton

photo by Leslie Layton


by Lindajoy Fenley

Dave Gordon’s mural in downtown Manteca harks back to the early 1900s, when trains steamed through fields of bright yellow sunflowers, and watermelon and pumpkin crops made this San Joaquin Valley farm town prosperous. A huge watermelon rides in a small child’s wheelbarrow, tall gray canisters fill the milkman’s truck, a mother with kids in tow holds a couple of sunflowers, and wispy white clouds hover in a clear blue sky.

This life-size painting of the crossroads of highways 120 and 99 suggests what the corner looked like when the state highway system was in its infancy and Californians were beginning a love affair with road trips.

Dubbed “Crossroads,” the 2003 mural is one of 11 that members of the Manteca Mural Society have produced, distinguishing Manteca from other valley towns. The goal is to create 30 murals commemorating local character and history.

The project was inspired by the high school’s 10-year-old mural program that began when a local art teacher gambled on a hunch — that murals could supplant graffiti. The students have created more than 140 murals, housed inside a stately brick building where budding artists paint under the tutelage of “Mr. G.” — teacher Kirt Giovannoni.

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