|THE HISTORY OF SOLVANG’S DANISH LOOK
By Ann Dittmer
Author's note: While some buildings have been modified, all structures mentioned here still exist.
In its early years, Solvang never advertised its Danish cultural heritage through public or private architecture. Every building, with the exception of the classically designed Santa Ynez Valley Bank, was constructed as a simple wood frame structure in a western style or adopted Mission/Spanish style facades of white washed stucco and red tile roofs.
A hallmark of Solvang’s Danish look is bindingsværk. This type of construction was popular in Denmark as early as the 16th century. Literally meaning brick and timber, this half-timber construction technique (sometimes using stucco as an alternative to brick) is typical to Danish medieval buildings. Starting in the 1930s, individual building projects in Solvang started to use bindingsværk architectural style. However, most residents could not afford real timbers. Instead, sculpted cement mixed with brown pigment sufficed to create the impression of wood beams.
The next major Danish-style building was the new Solvang Elementary School. Located on Spring Street (today Atterdag Road), it opened in January of 1940. The school’s steep red tiled roof complimented the nearby Bethania Church. A metal stork weather vane was placed over the entrance to bring traditional good luck.
One of Solvang’s boldest Danish architectural statements came from Ferd Sorensen, a local plumber, metalsmith, and woodworker. Starting in 1940, he built what later would be called a Danish Provincial style home. While the design was based on traditional Danish architectural elements, Ferd added a touch of whimsy to his creation.
One of the largest commercial projects to go Danish was Raymond Paaske’s Copenhagen Square. A collaborative effort, which included Ferd Sorensen’s design, it was completed in 1947. This building was the catalyst for downtown Solvang to invest in widespread Danish-style conversion.
Viggo and Martha Brandt-Erichsen’s home, Elverhoy, also had architectural significance in Solvang. Viggo and his family spent nearly four years (1949-1953) recreating the style of an 18th century Danish farmhouse. Viggo hand-hewed the half-timber beams and laid intricate brick patterns to provide authentic bindingsværk walls — one of the few buildings in town with such detail.
“The fact that Elverhoy used real beams caused a big problem,” recalls son David Brandt-Erichsen, who grew up in the house. “Unbeknownst to my father, the climate in California was much different than Denmark and was not conducive to this style of architecture. When it rained, the beams would swell, and when they dried out, they would shrink. This made the house leak like a sieve and it took many years and lots of work to fix this. The stucco facade ‘beams’ work much better in California!”
From this point forward, the conversion of much of Solvang from non-descript American town to Danish village began in earnest.