ELVERHØJ MUSEUM OF HISTORY & ART

CELEBRATING 110 Years of History and Culture

Elverhøj is honoring Solvang's founding in 1911 and its 110th anniversary using the theme “Skål Solvang – Celebrating 110 Years of History & Culture.” This is the end of summer installment in a year-long series of emails highlighting community milestones.

Transitions

Solvang has experienced many kinds of transitions in its 110-year history: Danes transitioning to America; the prevalence of family farms declining as people transitioned to urban life; and, most visibly, the evolution of the town’s architecture from simple, functional structures to the Danish style for which Solvang has gained world renown.

Dania Hall (pictured) is a perfect example of the sturdy but no-frills construction. Built of locally made cinder blocks with a Western-style false front, the traditional Danish forsamlinghus (gathering house) was located at the end of Main Street (now Copenhagen Drive where Peasant's Feast is located).  

Overall, downtown Solvang gave no hint of the Danish heritage that ran so deeply in the lives of the residents.  

The first Solvang building to reflect the town’s heritage was Bethania Lutheran Church. Modeled after traditional churches in rural Denmark, construction was completed in 1928, with the help of a lot of volunteer labor, at a cost of $15,311,47. 

In 1939, Sunny Corner Cafe, located at the northwest corner of First and Main streets, adapted bindingsværk details. Note the mix of architectural styles along First Street in this photo.

After World War II, the town’s architectural transition gained momentum. Two things spurred the effort. First, an article in the January 1947 edition of Saturday Evening Post, the #1 weekly magazine in America, brought glowing text and enticing photos of “Little Denmark” into homes across the country – and almost more publicity than the town could handle. With an increasing emphasis on visitor appeal, the push to convert buildings to the Danish architectural style began in earnest in an effort completely driven by local business owners and local investments.

A particularly enthusiastic supporter for the transformation of Solvang was Ray Paaske. In 1947 he collaborated with his brother Erwin and craftsman Ferd Sorensen to build "Copenhagen Square." Located on Alisal Road at the eastern end of Main Street, it was the first downtown building purposely constructed in the Danish style. 

The Solvang Businessmen's Association was the second factor in the downtown transition. As President, Ray Paaske pestered and cajoled other business owners into providing more "scenic value" for the increasing number of tourists. 

The trend continued and, starting in 1953, streets in Solvang were given Danish names. In 1957 a widespread architectural transition was approved by members of the Solvang Retail Merchants Association (predecessor of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce).

Before: W.L. Farmer converted his real estate building on Mission Drive to Danish-themed architecture.

After: The first floor was left intact but the roof was raised and dormer windows were added. Rolled roof edges and bindingsværk details were added. 

By the early 1970s, the majority of the downtown business district had transitioned to Old World Danish style architecture. As visitors came in ever-increasing numbers to experience Solvang's Danish culture, a transformation took place. The town went from not just being Danish to looking Danish.

In 1985, Solvang became California's 440th city. Shortly after, a community design plan was implemented to maintain the Old World Danish style in the downtown. This recent picture of Atterdag Square shows an evolving, many-faceted community. 

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1624 Elverhoy Way
Solvang, CA 93463
805-686-1211
www.elverhoj.org

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