Solvang, Part One: Sunny Field

This is Part One of a three-part series about the town of Solvang, California, and Isla Vista, one of its neighboring towns. For the next installation, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Sunny Field

The entrance to Hans Christian Andersen Park, in Solvang, California. Yesterday was Hans’ 218th birthday.

I think Danish people are great. That’s because one of my great grandmothers came from Denmark. As did the great grandparents of many other Americans, between 1850 and 1930. That’s when Denmark’s economy had gone to the dogs, prompting many great Danes to immigrate to our country, sniffing out better jobs and living conditions.

Upwards of 10% of the Danish population relocated to the U.S.A. over this period. These Danes liked to stick together, so they set up Danish colonies all over the Midwest, like Vikings conquering new territory. But in 1911 the Midwest-settlement mold was broken, when two Danes deigned to establish a colony in California. (See what I did there?)

They purchased 9,000 acres in the Santa Ynez valley of Santa Barbara County, for $360,000. The real estate belonged to an old Mexican land grant called Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. This rancho surrounded Mission Santa Inés, which had been established by Spanish friars in 1804.

Many Chumash Indians are buried at Mission Santa Inés.

The two colonists subdivided this land and proceeded to make their fortune, selling it to Danish immigrants. Soon, a town sprang up next to the old Spanish mission. The settlers named it “Solvang,” which in Danish means “sunny field.”

A sunny field at Solvang’s Hans Christian Andersen Park.

Sometime in the mid-1940s, the Danish denizens of Solvang got the idea to convert all their buildings (except the mission) to resemble Danish architecture. By this time there were many non-Danes also living in the town, but they went along with the idea. And their efforts were so successful, that the town came to resemble an authentic village transplanted from Denmark.

Bethania Lutheran Church was constructed in 1928, designed after a photograph of a Gothic-styled Danish church. This was the first building in Solvang to be based upon Danish architecture.

It caught the attention of the Saturday Evening Post, which featured this picturesque town in their magazine, in 1947. And before long, curious readers flocked to “Sunny Field” to see it for themselves. A tourism industry sprang up, which grew as great as the Danes and which continues to thrive. Today, Solvang receives about a million visitors per year, armed with cameras for photographing the unique architecture, as well as with credit cards for the numerous souvenir and pastry shops.

Denmark is as famous as Holland, for its windmills. This giant, Danish-style windmill towers as a landmark on Alisal Road, in downtown Solvang,

But despite all the visitors, the population of permanent residents has remained small. Today it’s about 6,000 souls. Strangely, only about 10% of these residents are of Danish ancestry, yet they all go along with the make-believe atmosphere of Scandinavia, putting on a show for the visitors and raking in the tourist dollars.

Solvang has many tourist-trap shopping magnets, such Frederik’s Court, on Alisal Road.

Solvang has often been dubbed “The Danish Capital of America,” and has been visited by Danish royalty a number of times. These have included Denmark’s Prince Frederik, Princess Ingrid, and Prince Henrik.

The Elverhoy Museum of History and Art features Danish/American culture. It was constructed in 1950, with fittings only, and no nails, to resemble an 18th century farmhouse in Jutland, Denmark. The name “Elverhoy,” means “Elves’ Hill,” after a famous Danish folk play.

Several semi-famous people have resided in Solvang, including Patricia Hitchcock, the only child of film director Alfred Hitchcock. Which brings to mind Solvang’s most newsworthy resident. He was a Dane named Thor Nis Christiansen. Thor did much to promote women’s rights in the nearby town of Isla Vista, though he wasn’t such a great Dane, and his promotional efforts were inadvertent.

I’ll tell you more about Thor in the next installation.

A clock in downtown Solvang. See ya next time!

Categories: History

48 replies »

  1. Yes, I saw what you did there. May have groaned, but with a smile.

    Happy Birthday to Hans! Do they have his books for sale there? Looks like that would be a fun place to visit. May be the closest I get to a Scandinavian country. I think I should have some Dutch knick knacks for my home. A small windmill in the front yard.

    So, I take it you aren’t talking about the Greek God Thor?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think they do have Hans’ books. In fact, they have a Hans Christian Andersen museum, which is kind of famous. Unfortunately, I forgot about that museum and didn’t go to it. This is me, kicking myself: 🦵

      Of course you should have some Danish knickknacks. Every woman should have lots of knickknacks. And they should be tasked with keeping them well-dusted at all times.

      Uh, there is no Greek god named Thor. You might be thinking of Zeus. Thor is a Norse god. Do not insult my Danish blood by calling Thor a Greek, dummkopf.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for this. I’ll have to put Solvang on the pastry list…er, I meant bucket list. There’s only one jarring thing about all the Great Danes and danish knickknacks…that road name…Alisal??? How about Spandauer Road?

    Liked by 2 people

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