A Danish prince received a royal welcome and in return charmed large crowds Saturday evening in the “Danish Capital of America” as Solvang continued to celebrate its centennial year with a visit by the husband of Queen Margrethe II.
A crowd of 600 or more filled Solvang Park for a formal welcome and a celebration of Prince Consort Henrik’s 77th birthday, which coincidentally was Saturday.
The “royal birthday party” featured remarks by the prince; recognition of Solvang’s centennial; serving of a birthday cake, cookies and kringles; and solo and group singing as well as music by the Valley Wind Ensemble.
The United States and Denmark have “a relationship based on respect and common values and ideals” but it’s also forged by individual people “who have made a new home without forgetting the old nation of their ancestors,” Prince Consort Henrik said.
This wasn’t his first visit to Solvang, and in his remarks at the park Saturday he noted that the initial trip in 1976 occurred “almost to the day 35 years ago.”
He said he still had fond memories of that first visit to Solvang, “which is still a young town,” drawing laughs from the audience.
Asked about what he could remember from that first trip for a comparison with Solvang today, he smiled and said “I don’t remember there were so many houses and the trees were maybe not so high.”
The prince and his entourage arrived at the park by motorcade on First Street, where they were greeted by Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson and other officials.
After the festivities at the park, the pair led a crowd of pedestrians a block to Copenhagen Drive and another block to Alisal Road, where the prince helped dedicate the city’s new Centennial Plaza, including the unveiling of two bricks with the Danish royal monogram in honor of his visit.
The royal visit is the biggest of many events scheduled as Solvang marks its centennial throughout 2011.
“In typical Solvang style we have been celebrating all year long,” said Solvang City Manager Brad Vidro, the master of ceremonies at Solvang Park.
The prince consort’s visit was “as important to Solvang as the royal wedding was to London,” Richardson said after the festivities.
“I watched the prince get out of his car,” the mayor added. “He was flabbergasted. He was amazed at the response” and the size of the crowd in the park.
After the free public events downtown, the prince had a brief private meeting with local officials and then arrived for a sold-out, $100-a-plate dinner with 180 people, outdoors under a canopy, at Rusack Vineyards on Ballard Canyon Road.
The vineyard property was part of the nearly 9,000 acres that Solvang’s founders bought in 1911 for their new Danish colony.
Prince Consort Henrik and Queen Margrethe II visited Solvang together 35 years ago, in 1976.
They visited Washington, D.C., and New York City together last week before he continued on his own to Solvang and then visited Stanford University and the Danish Innovation Center in Palo Alto.
Danish officials accompanying Prince Henrik included Peter Taksoe-Jensen, Denmark’s ambassador to the United States; Christian Eugen-Olsen, master of ceremonies at the Danish royal palace; Torsten Jansen, minister counselor for culture and public diplomacy at the Danish embassy in Washington, D.C.; and Stig Stenhoj, honorary consul at the Danish Consulate in Los Angeles.
In addition to the prince consort’s short speech, the downtown celebration included Danish music played by the Valley Wind Ensemble, and singing of the Danish and American national anthems led by soloist Suzanne Hollrah and the band.
It also included a brief historical review by Esther Jacobsen Bates, executive director of the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, and remarks by Richardson, 35th District Assemblyman Das Williams, and Centennial Committee Chairman Ed Skytt.
It concluded with the serving of a birthday cake created for the prince’s birthday by local baker Bent Olsen.
The events were organized by the volunteer Solvang Centennial Committee and Solvang city officials, with the effort coordinated by the Solvang Convention and Visitors Bureau.