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Solvang As a Brand


What’s in a Brand? Specifically, what is Solvang’s brand identity and Vision?

Solvang’s current touristic brand personifies a 1950s Danish farming culture and a vision of village where time has stood still. Its village architecture is only a facsimile of an old Danish rustic village from the 1800s. This stilted identity and vision is fiercely promoted by a fading generations of Danes with real estate and businesses located on Alisal Rd and Copenhagen Dr.

Solvang Founders
Solvang founders: Pictured (left to right) are Mads Frese (land agent), P. P. Hornsyld, Benedict Nordentoft, and J. M. Gregerson.

Solvang’s Main Street, 1919 (now Copenhagen Dr.)

This was not the original identity and vision of Solvang’s progressive founders and immigrant settlers who sought to build a better life and a progressive city like those they left in Denmark. In fact, Solvang has long since outgrown the rustic farming identity and vision set by its original settlers.

Generations of Danish immigrants that built Solvang and much of the Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) have passed or left and with them their Danish language, bakeries, restaurants, shops and traditional celebrations such as old Danish Days and Julefest. Solvang’s Danish population has fallen sharply from a 1950s high of 90% to less than 10% of the City’s population of 5,600.

In 2018, the Community decisively voted in a new City Council to extirpate years of corruption at City Hall, a political machine that favored only their  supporters and prevented them from any competition and used City money to specifically promote only their businesses and fading brand. They are what many in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley call the “old guard,” and they proudly self-identify as the “Danish Mafia.” The last vestiges of this group can be found at the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, the same group that is being investigated for misap

The new Council and Community majority are fighting the fading old guard to establish a new contemporary brand – i.e., identity and vision – for Solvang.

Solvang’s current Identity and vision is an expression of its new sense of shared values, purpose and aspirations, i.e., it is what we think, do and build together.

I asked this question while campaigning across Solvang’s disparate neighborhoods. I asked the question of our self-described, old Danish Mafia that once controlled the City Councils, City Hall, and defunct City agencies like the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau and the Solvang Chamber of Commerce. I asked it of all those who chose to volunteer to serve the City.  Sadly I have yet to hear a coherent, cogent answer from anyone. So, let me give you mine.

Solvang’s new City Council and Community majority reflect a new sense of shared, progressive cultural identity and Vision – anything but the fading and stagnant status quo. Recent Council votes and support of the Community majority suggest Solvang prefers positive change that improves quality of life and City services, i.e., a safer, better and more cost-effective place for families to live, work and play. A place where the Community’s needs and priorities are balanced against the City’s dangerously and heavily dependent tourism economy. Solvang’s new majority of residents and businesses want change.

Specifically, Copenhagen, Denmark is a model of smart city technologies and an advanced digital economy that epitomizes the best of Danish culture – cost effective and efficient government, highly productive and profitable business, and highly skilled and educated community all working together to produce one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and quality of life. Despite a lack of natural resources, Copenhagen is a leader of sophisticated industrial and digital innovation, architecture, culture, food, fashion and fun – e.g., think Maersk, Novo Norsk, Danske Bank, Carlsberg, Lego, Tivoli and more. Copenhagen is a thought leader of Scandinavia and competes globally against the largest European and North American economies. Copenhagen exemplifies Danish Culture, Identity and Vision.

I believe Solvang aspires to be the Little Copenhagen of the Santa Ynez Valley (SYV), i.e., a model city, a leader and laboratory of smart city technologies, a digital economy and unique and compelling places to stay, eat, shop and play for both valley residents and visitors. The Santa Ynez Valley is arguably the new Napa for upper middle class visitors, and Solvang is the SYV’s de facto cultural center of gravity. The new City Council and Community are pro-actively redefining Solvang’s identity and vision into what can best be described as New Copenhagen. Solvang is transitioning to a modern Northern European town where non-Danish community residents and visitors can experience the richness of Danish culture and declare, “it’s good to be Danish.”

This is Solvang 2.0 and the foundation of Solvang’s new brand identity. So how do we brand this new version of Danish cultural identity and vision?

Chris Djernaes is a Danish native of Solvang and graduate of Santa Ynez High School.  He has a Bachelor’s degree with majors in both Finance and Economics from Baylor University, and a Master’s degree in Business Economics from UC Santa Barbara. 

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