City’s growth began to take shape in the 1960s and continued through the ’80s
Research by Ann Dittmer and Esther Jacobsen Bates
As Solvang celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1961, much of the groundwork for the present city was in place. The 1960s followed a transitional time after World War II as old ways were disappearing and new ideas emerged.
The widespread architectural transformation of the downtown was ongoing and visitors were arriving in ever-increasing numbers.
Construction and expansion were underway as the town’s appeal became evident, especially to those seeking a more idyllic lifestyle away from the urban core of Southern California. To the west, Vandenberg Air Force Base — now Vandenberg Space Force Base — opened on the site of World War II’s Camp Cooke. The base thrived and some workers came to live in Solvang.
New houses pushed the boundaries of Solvang outward, encroaching on chicken and egg farms, agricultural fields, and dairies. The Burchardi Dairy, a fixture at Solvang’s western entry since 1917, was a casualty. It closed around 1960; the Nyborg Estates residential subdivision was later built on its former property.
Solvang existed for 74 years without a formal governing body. But that is not to say that it was without leadership. Initially, local businessmen organized to get basic projects done. Fire and emergency medical support was provided by Solvang Fire Department volunteers.
With an increasing demand for services, the Solvang Municipal Improvement District (SMID) was created in 1951 by a special act of the California State Legislature. Incredibly efficient and focused, SMID was able to impose taxes and generate revenue for local necessities like public sewer and water systems as well as traffic control and installation of the town’s first public restrooms and parking lots.
The town was growing up.
After years of planning, Solvang got its long-hoped-for hospital in 1964 with the opening of the 32-bed Santa Ynez Valley Hospital which has since affiliated with the Santa Barbara-based Cottage Health System. In 1968, the first traffic signal was installed.
Cultural events continued to be prominent milestones in the community’s history. In 1970, Hans Christian Andersen Park opened. Volunteers built the distinctive castle entrance and gathered with residents for a dedication celebration. The same year, the old Atterdag College building on the nearby hill was demolished.
In June of 1974, ground was broken for a Festival Theater on Second Street and, in an incredible eight weeks, the theater was built and opened with its debut production. It is currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar upgrade that is expected to be completed in time for the 2022 summer season.
In the early 1980s, civic leaders began to push for cityhood to have more local control and freedom from county taxes.
On May 1, 1985, Solvang became California’s 440th city with the entire SMID board voted in as the first City Council. The new city encompassed 1,555 acres, significantly less than the original lands of Solvang that stretched over 8,882 acres. A “key” to the city bears its first logo depicting The Little Mermaid.
Creating a general plan was one of the council’s first priorities. The plan included community design, explicitly stating the downtown would maintain the “old world” architectural style of Denmark.
The city’s design rules created a more cohesive look and cleaned up visual clutter by banning mechanical equipment from street views, moving power lines underground and regulating signage. A friendly competition evolved among building owners who were upgrading and new buildings even included scaled replicas of well-known Danish buildings.
Outside of the downtown, thoroughbreds replaced dairy cattle. Vineyards sprang up and wineries proliferated. Solvang had always been a growing community, but in the 1980s it seemed as if there was a building boom. Population increased by 16% from 1980 to 1986. Housing units followed suit, increasing by 36% from 1980 to 1988. Businesses thrived.
Today, residents and visitors alike experience an evolving, lively, many-faceted city.
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 fall installment in a year-long series of emails highlighting community milestones.