Danish Ambassador to the United States, Peter Taksoe-Jensen, cut the ribbon Tuesday at The Copenhagen House, unveiling a contemporary Danish jewelry exhibit and a throwback to the culture’s Viking roots in the unfinished building.
Once a Rabobank, the new Danish design center now guards a different type of treasure in the former bank vaults: museum exhibits.
“The Great Hall of the Danes,” featuring displays of Nordic daggers and Viking war uniforms, and the “Solvang Amber Museum” are stowed away in the bank’s hardened vaults.
“This is a new icon in Solvang,” said Taksoe-Jensen, who is in town this week for the Cultural Frontrunners conference, a brainstorming session with the goal of increasing the presence of Danish culture in America.
“You can’t really underestimate it. Here, you can go in and see a place where Danish companies and really, Danish handcrafts, can also be displayed, and that was a little bit missing in my view in Solvang,” Taksoe-Jensen said.
Boasting sleek contemporary Danish design inside, while retaining an antiquated architectural aesthetic outside, the building strikes a balance in Solvang’s old-fashioned village center.
Across the street is Dascomb Cellars, topped with a straw thatched roof, a now archaic roofing style that helped give rise to the saying “it’s raining rats and mice.”
Down the road, Elna’s Dress Shop showcases traditional Danish maid dresses. Across the corner of Copenhagen and Third Street, a now iconic oversized porcelain clog is mostly used for tourists’ photo opportunities.
“I think that Solvang has stood a little still in a time vacuum, and I think that’s OK. People come here because of that, but I also think they can use an injection of contemporary Denmark,” said Rene Gross Kaerskov, owner and developer of The Copenhagen House.
When finished, the contemporary Danish design house will include jewelery from Pandora, Arena Copenhagen, Bering watches, and furniture from House of Copenhagen and MODA, Danish home design.
“Hopefully this will turn into the hall of fame of Danish brands,” Kaerskov said.
For Kaerskov, the design center was an opportunity to help retain the Danish culture in Solvang. When initially looking for an investment property, he wasn’t looking for a building the size of 1660 Copenhagen Dr.
“I saw it as a historical prime location that really couldn’t go to a discount store from L.A. or something like that, so I grabbed it,” Kaerskov said. “You don’t just shop here – you come and experience Denmark.”
The design center is helping move Solvang in the right direction, Taksoe-Jensen said, adding that it would create a “linkage” between Denmark and Solvang.
“I see Solvang as a living, breathing tourism brochure that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world,” Kaerskov said.
The building is under construction until at least the end of March, Kaerskov said. At the ribbon cutting Tuesday, gallons of paint were stacked up against the building’s corners next to unopened boxes of wood flooring.
Exposed wood framing provided the backdrop for the unveiling of The Copenhagen House’s centerpiece: a 10-foot tall, 800 pound carved statue of Holger Danske, a sleeping mythical Viking figure who, according to legend, wakes up turning into flesh and blood to defend his country if Danish culture is threatened. A sword rests in his lap.
“I’m sure he will wake up someday if some Indian casino or some other stuff tries to take over the Danishness of Solvang,” Taksoe-Jensen said. “He will guard that.”
The statement was regarded by Kaerskov and tourism officials as nothing more than “a lighthearted joke,” but the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians have purchased former Danish properties in Solvang, including the Scandinavian Inn, now Hotel Corque, Root 246 restaurant and the Hadsten House in 2012, which for years was Dannebrog Inn.
At the time, some tribal opponents worried that the properties would be annexed into the reservation.
Taksoe-Jensen’s visit Tuesday marks his third official visit to Solvang, which he described Tuesday as being hygge, or cozy, before backtracking and saying “it’s more than hygge. It’s the fabric of Denmark.”