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For the next few decades, Modesto's population grew about two percent per year to over 100,000 in 1980, and over 200,000 in 2001.

The city's official motto, "Water Wealth Contentment Health," is emblazoned on the downtown Modesto Arch, which is featured in local photographs and postcards. (The original winner, "Nobody's got Modesto's goat", The 1973 film American Graffiti, starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams, was set in 1962 Modesto; however, the scenes of weekend cruising were actually filmed in Petaluma, California.

The city's annual Architectural Festival honors Modesto's history as a testing ground for mid-century modern architecture during the 1940s and '50s.

Modesto's mid-century buildings have been featured four times in Museum of Modern Art publications.

Filmmaker George Lucas, who was born in Modesto, graduated from Thomas Downey High School in 1962 and attended Modesto Junior College, immortalized the city in his award-winning 1973 film American Graffiti.