By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
With an eye to the past while looking to the future, Buellton celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Avenue of Flags on Sept. 22 with the help of former Gov. Ronald Reagan’s son.
Then-Gov. Reagan originally dedicated the avenue — which had been Highway 101 when it cut through the community — and his son Michael spoke at the anniversary celebration on Sept. 22.
Approximately 150 people, including several who attended the original dedication, gathered to mark the anniversary.
“So I leave you with this: My father may be gone, (but) the Avenue of Flags that he dedicated 50 years ago will live on forever,” said Michael Reagan, the eldest son of the late former governor and president, in his remarks.
Decades ago, Buellton provided a pit stop for Highway 101 travelers between Southern and Northern California, earning the community its nickname, “Service Town USA.” The community provided food, fuel, lodging and vehicle repairs to motorists making their way up and down the state.
“This road, Avenue of Flags, put our town on the map,” Mayor Holly Sierra said.
In the 1960s, the state moved the highway a short distance to the east amid an increase in traffic and crashes, Sierra said, badly hurting businesses in Buellton.
“Our economy just crashed in Buellton, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to bring business back to our beautiful little town,” she said.
Sierra recalled that Vince Evans, owner of Pea Soup Andersen’s, built a zoo, a lake and train ride on freeway frontage land in hopes of luring tourists back to Buellton.
“He also called on his very good friend, then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan, to come and dedicate the Avenue of Flags,” she recalled. “For those who were here, it must have been an incredible day.”
Relatives of Reagan, who owned a mountaintop ranch south of Buellton, participated in the city’s celebration, reflecting on the family’s ties to Buellton and the Santa Ynez Valley.
“What a gorgeous avenue it is and what a gorgeous avenue it’s going to be in the future,” said Michael Reagan, an author, political consultant and former radio talk show host.
The younger Reagan continues to work to advance his father’s causes through the Reagan Legacy Foundation, including creating scholarships for the men and women who serve aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is now stationed near Japan, he told the crowd at the celebration.
“The captain said to me, ‘Don’t worry about North Korea. We have enough on the ship to take care of that issue,’ which is absolutely true,” Reagan said as the audience applauded.
“So when the president of the United States talks about North Korea, he’s got the USS Ronald Reagan there to make sure everything’s going to be OK with North Korea.
“It’s not that a Reagan needs a (President Donald) Trump, but a Trump will always need a Reagan,” he added to laughter. “Just saying.”
The ceremony included a reading, by Caroline Abate from the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, of a letter from Andrew Coffin, director of the center and vice president of the Young America’s Foundation.
Representatives of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau also participated, gathering items to be placed in a time capsule to be opened in 25 years.
A half-century after its dedication, Avenue of Flags — essentially the city’s downtown — has seen some things remain the same and some big changes possible for the future.
Regardless, previously installed bronze statues and a military memorial will remain, Sierra added.
An Avenue of Flags Specific Plan, calling for an Art Deco theme and vintage walk, will help guide development with a gas station and more planned, she said.
“The goal is to make the Avenue pedestrian-friendly — a place to shop, eat, relax, listen to music and catch up with our neighbors,” Sierra said.
Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.