The Forgotten: Solvang, CA
Look at this place! It’s real! This place actually exists! When I was a kid, I’d only heard about Solvang – my parents had a little blue and white souvenir porcelain windmill whose blades kept breaking off, with the mysterious mark “SOLVANG” painted on its base. The blades spun around, so of course I was intrigued by the little keepsake (come to think of it, no wonder the blades kept breaking), and for all I knew, the “SOLVANG” mark painted onto it was a brand name, and not a real place. Eventually, I figured out that Solvang was a place, but that’s about it. I didn’t know where it was, who lived there, or really anything else about it. All that I knew was that there were windmills. So, HOW is it that I have been sitting on this picture for over 8 months and NOT written about it? How could I have forgotten about Solvang after actually visiting the town??!?
Almost nine months ago, I drove up to Santa Maria with a friend to grab lunch. On the way back down, we took a left turn at the split pea soup and found ourselves in an actual town that looks like it was ripped straight out of Fantasyland. Keep in mind that this is in the middle of Santa Barbara County, better known for this and this, rather than this. This picture above is of a regular business that happens to have a giant windmill attached to it. It could be pretty much any business: a baker, a hotel, a realtor, a Burger King (half-kidding), but these businesses have WINDMILLS attached to them. What appears to be the most blatant (and effective) marketing ploy EVER actually has its roots in reality. The town was founded just over 100 years ago by Danish immigrants who missed home, so they built structures in a traditional Danish style, complete with windmills, and the tourists came in earnest.
You may know that I’m a complete California history geek, hence posts like this one, and also hence the overwhelming majority of my posts about locales in California. One of the great things about this state is its spectacular cultural diversity. Case in point: While in Solvang, I saw a sign directing me to the Santa Ines Mission, one of the 21 missions established by Spanish settlers in the 16 and 17th centuries. The mission is one of the few that is still (mostly) standing with its (mostly) original construction. The mission is the only one of the 21 that is located in a present-day Danish community. In Solvang, you can stand in an historic building that features classic Mission architecture, and look across the street at buildings constructed in a traditional Danish style. THAT is California. For an extra bit of irony, not five miles down the road from the mission bells and Danish windmills stands a completely modern Indian casino.
I leave no further comment on that.