The Story of Solvang

(Walking through Solvang is easy)

Solvang, founded in 1911 as a Danish-American colony on a portion of the sprawling Rancho San Carlos de Janata, has developed into one of the principal tourist attractions in the country.

Located inland along the Central California Coast some 45 miles north of Santa Barbara or 35 miles south of Santa Maria, the town embodies the expression "Denmark lives in Solvang" with the village of 4, 800 representing a page from a Hans Christian Andersen story. 

Solvang meaning "sunny Field", was founded by a group of Danish educators from the Midwest in 1911 who were in search of a site for a Danish-type folk school.   They liked what they saw and envisioned the location of the potential town, nestled between the Santa Ynez and san Rafael Mountain Ranges, as an ideal place to launch the school and where settlers could earn a living tilling the rich soil.

Included among the first arrivals were not only farmers, but carpenters and other artisans as well who set about constructing the first buildings, homes, a hotel and the original folk school, a two-story frame structure on Alisal Road and now the site of the BitO'Denmark Restaurant.

The realization of a folk school in the true sense of the word came in 1914 with the creation of Atterdag College on a hill on the north side of town.  In addition to serving as a place of learning, Atterdag in earlier years served as the site for Lutheran church worship services.  In 1928 the church home for the congregation of Bethania Lutheran Church was completed on Atterdag Road.  Patterned after a typical rural church in Denmark, the interior of Bethania is adorned with hand carved woodwork on the altar, pulpit and altar rail.

The role of Atterdag College declined in later years and in the spring of 1970 the building was demolished to make way for the Santa Ynez Valley Recovery Residence, a convalescent facility, located adjacent to the Solvang Lutheran Home.

Although Solvang has developed into one of the major tourist Mecca's, its many Danish-American residents continue to perpetuate their Danish heritage.  Danish and Danish-American fraternal and social organizations are active in Solvang, including Danish Brotherhood and Sisterhood Lodges, Dania Men's and Ladies Lodges and Solvang Chapter of the Rebild National Park Society. 

Other ties with Denmark are evident too.  Some members of the community are members of the Royal Order of Dannebrog in recognition of their contributions toward strengthening the bonds between the United States and Denmark.  In addition, Solvang and Aalborg in Denmark are sister cities.

A Danish custom which has continued in Solvang to this day is the rejsegilde, a celebration at the raising of the highest rafter on a new building.  This tradition is observed with most new construction in the area, spreading throughout the non-Danish population of the Santa Ynez Valley. 

The emphasis on going "all-Danish" with its architectural style in the downtown area was accelerated after the end of WW II and publication of a big photo-word spread on the town in the Saturday Evening Post.  Visitors from Denmark regularly attest to the authenticity of the town's Danish farm-style building with bindingsvaerk (half-timbered) walls, tile, simulated thatch and gleaming copper roofs, attractive dormers, stained glass windows and stretches of cobblestone sidewalks.  Another indication of Solvang's Danish background is found in the array of artificial storks gracing the chimneys and roof lines of many of the Danish homes and commercial buildings.   The people in Solvang, like those in Denmark, believe a stork on the roof will bring good luck.  Street illumination is provided in some parts of town by old-fashioned gas lamps, many of which at one time saw service in Copenhagen.   Lending emphasis also to the Danish countryside flavor are Solvang's quintet of country-style windmills.

Tours of the town are provided daily in the spring, summer and fall and on weekends in the winder via Honen "The Hen", a replica of a Copenhagen street car of the early 1900's which is powered by a pair of massive Blonde Belgian horses.

Solvang is also home to two museums.  The Elverhoj Museum is housed in a replica of a Danish farmhouse.  The museum is devoted to the cultural heritage of Solvang.   Displays include information about early Solvang history, examples of Danish and Danish-American furnishings and rotating exhibits of art.  The Hans Christian Andersen Museum in downtown Solvang features a large collection of the author's books.   Displays in the museum also relate to the life, art and loves of Denmark's most famous and beloved author.

A Solvang tradition since 1974 and acclaimed by critics nationwide, the Solvang Theaterfest offers repertory theater at its finest with plays presented by the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.  The 780 seat outdoor theater offers a variety of theatrical presentations from June through September each year.

Although it is frequented by thousands upon thousands of visitors from all parts of the country, as well as from all over the world, each year Solvang has still managed to retain its charm and quaintness plus its cleanliness.  Every morning shopkeepers, many of them in Danish costumes, apply their brooms to the sidewalks and roadways. Next task is to arrange their American and Danish flags in their holders.

Solvang is a town of flags, with practically every business establishment and many homes displaying the national banner of the United States, the stars and stripes and the red and white Dannebrog, the world's oldest flag.

As the years have passed the Danish-Americans of Solvang, as well as the more recent arrivals of non-Danish descendants, continue to live in harmony with the other ethnic groups of the Santa Ynez Valley.  The varied population of the valley includes the Chumash Indians who live on a nearby reservation in Santa Ynez, and the Mexicans and Spanish whose forbears came to Solvang long before it was envisioned as a Danish town. the legacy of these earlier settlers and the padres is evident in the Old Mission Santa Ines, which was dedicated on September 17, 1804 as the 19th in the chain of 21 California Missions.   (Lompoc has the La Purisima Mission - 15 miles to the West of Solvang and it is open daily)  The Old Mission or Santa Ines Mission as sometime it is called, is one of the best preserved in the state, is located a short distance from the heart of downtown Solvang.