Buellton celebrated 25 years as an incorporated city Feb. 1 with an open house at City Hall, where former council members, longtime residents, business people and Solvang city officials stopped by to chat, peruse old photographs and scrapbooks and have a piece of cake.
City staff still managed to get their work done even as they greeted visitors like Jim Buell, whose family’s ranch evolved into the town — coincidentally — 100 years ago this year, though most accounts say the town was founded in 1920.
But 1917 is when the state highway department finished realigning Highway 101 and completed the first highway bridge over the Santa Ynez River, said local historian Curt Cragg.
“They originally wanted to name the town ‘Buell’ after the family that owned the land, but the post office would not accept that name because it was already in use in Oregon,” Cragg explained.
“By the time they applied for the new name, ‘Buellton,’ and it was accepted by the postmaster, it was 1920, so that's where that date comes from,” he said.
Cragg said Mads Freese, the real estate agent for the town of Solvang, laid out the Buellton townsite and sold the lots, many of them to Danish people from Solvang.
“It was most likely Mads Feese that suggested adding ‘ton’ to ‘Buell,’ since that implies the Danish word for ‘town,’ so ‘Buell-town’ or ‘Buellton’ as a quasi-Danish name for Solvang’s neighboring town,” Cragg said.
“Of course, the most famous business owned by a Dane in California was ironically started in Buellton, not Solvang — Andersen's Pea Soup,” he added. “Andersen located his business along the new highway in 1924, and the rest is history.”
Seeds of the city
Up until 1992, the only local government Buellton had was the Community Services District that provided water and sewer services. All the other decisions that affected the community were made by the Board of Supervisors in Santa Barbara.
Dissatisfaction with the way the county was running things began to simmer among the populace, and before long a couple of issues brought it to a boil.
“We wanted a park,” said Ed Andrisek, former mayor and current city councilman, who moved to Buellton in 1976. “The (county) parks manager said we couldn’t do it unless we study it first.”
The community had been raising money for the park for some time, Andrisek said, but the parks manager put the cost of the study at $53,000, which alone would eat up almost all that money. Construction of the park would be another $550,000.
“We said, ‘By gosh, we need to be self-governing,’” Andrisek said.
“Was that up at the dog park?” Buell asked. “That’s where I used to shoot jack rabbits at 10 cents a jack rabbit.”
Another log tossed under the kettle of cityhood was a $387,000 assessment the county handed Frederico’s restaurant. But instead of benefiting Buellton, the money went to build an overpass in Santa Barbara.
Movers and shakers
Steve Lykken, whom Andrisek described as “one of the most important people to get into cityhood,” was another visitor at the open house.
“I’m probably the oldest businessman in Buellton,” said Lykken, who’s owned Steve’s Wheel & Tire since 1968. “Of course, I started young.”
Andrisek said Lykken was the driving force behind incorporation.
“It cost me a lot of business,” Lykken said. “It took two years of work. But it had to be done.”
A committee on incorporation was formed, and instead of spending money to study a park, money was spent to study cityhood.
Using $20,000 built up with donations ranging from $100 to $1,000, the committee hired a consultant in 1990.
His study concluded if Buellton became a city, in its first year it would collect $1.7 million in revenues and spend $1.35 million on police and fire services, roads and development.
When the issue finally came to the ballot box, it passed, and Buellton was a city.
Lykken, however, chose not to run for office.
“I never was on the City Council. I just ran things,” Lykken joked. “They called me the sixth councilman.”
Not everyone thought becoming a city was a good idea.
“My husband voted against it,” said Holly Sierra, who just became the city’s first directly elected mayor. “It won by 89 votes. Now he thinks it’s the best thing that could have happened to the town.”
The irony of husband Frank voting against incorporation for the city she now leads is not lost on her.
“He was very supportive of my campaign,” she added.
State of the City
The mayor and City Manager Marc Bierdzinski will offer two views of Buellton at the State of the City Luncheon celebrating the city’s birthday on Feb. 21 at the Santa Ynez Marriott, 555 McMurray Road.
Sierra said she will present an overview of the city’s history up to incorporation, and then Bierdzinski will take a look at how the city changed and grew after incorporation as well as what lies ahead.
She hopes the luncheon will be attended by all the former council members who are still living in the area — Diane Whitehair, Victoria Pointer, Judith Dale, Mark Mendenhall, Dave King, Dale Molesworth and Leo Elovitz.
“I really want to honor and pay tribute to those people who worked so hard to make Buellton what it is today,” she said.
For luncheon tickets, contact the Buellton Chamber of Commerce at 688-7829 or email@example.com.
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