ELVERHØJ MUSEUM OF HISTORY & ART

CELEBRATING 110 Years of History and Culture

Saturday Evening Post Features Solvang

January 18, 1947

Seventy-four years ago, America discovered Solvang, and our quiet little town nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley has never been the same.

On January 18, 1947, an article titled “Little Denmark” was published in the weekly magazine, Saturday Evening Post. The enormous popularity of the Post brought Solvang into nearly every American home.  

Written by Dean Jennings, with photographs by Jack Manning, the lengthy feature article explored what was then a small town with few outward signs of its Danish origins. The community’s Old World charm was captured in photographs of residents wearing traditional Danish costumes, students pouring out of Atterdag College, and congregants outside Bethania Lutheran Church, the town’s first Danish-style structure. It ended with a word-portrait of an idyllic, pastoral place.

The article soon prompted a stream of visitors into “Little Denmark.” Local businesses responded by putting an increasing emphasis on visitor appeal. An enthusiastic supporter for transformation was Raymond Paaske, recently returned from service in World War II. As a German prisoner of war, Paaske had been marched through Bavaria and was inspired by the beauty of traditional Northern European architecture. He suggested that it would be to the advantage of businesses to capitalize on the town’s Danish culture and “adopt Danish style architecture in remodeling old buildings and erecting new.”

In the years that followed, local business owners enthusiastically embraced the concept and the downtown area became more visitor-friendly and began looking like the village we see today.

Danish-style windmills were built in four locations around the town. The mill on Alisal Road – a favorite photo stop – was commissioned by Paaske and completed in 1963.  

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 and the emphasis shifted from agriculture to tourism. 

“On the knoll above Atterdag College the wind sings through the town’s ancient aeolian harp,” Manning wrote in the Saturday Evening Post article.  

While the College buildings are long since gone, making way for Atterdag Village, the harp underwent a meticulous restoration in 2016 and its song can be still heard in the breeze.

Today, the city’s Danish heritage remains inextricably woven into the texture of its everyday life. Clearly, tourism has been affected by the COVID-19 stay-at-home order making it a quieter winter than usual.  But the heart of the town remains strong as we look forward to welcoming visitors back. 

Stay safe and listen for a song on the wind.

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Learn more about the history of Solvang

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ELVERHØJ MUSEUM of History and Art

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

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