The Old Country Design or Disneytecture in California?

When one thinks of Central to Sourthern California, one doesn’t usually think of Bavaria or Copenhagen.  More likely you’d think of the Spanish influence, Mexican food or warm sunny beaches and palm trees.  We don’t get snow –hardly ever (maybe a rare hail storm if that qualifies).  Though we’ve got our quota of rain recently, even that’s not too common here.  Certainly not similar to the climate you would expect to find in Northern Europe. 

When I think of Bavarian-looking architecture here in California, the first place I think of is Disneyland.  My family is going to be spending some time here this Holiday Season.



Yet all around us on the California Central Coast, we are surrounded by Bavarian-looking architecture (I like to call it Disneytecture) intermingled with the Spanish buildings with stucco walls and tile roofs.  Handily, the Bavarian designs often have stucco and tile roofs too.

This is a house at the entrance of the neighborhood where my family will soon be moving into:

There are many examples of “Disneytecture” in Santa Maria:

Here is the Santa Maria Inn that was built in 1917.  It has a Victorian look but when you venture beyond its entry, there is a center courtyard that is very Spanish mission looking.

Just down the road (about a 25 minute drive) is the town of Solvang.  The town was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants looking for warmer weather than most of the other Danish pioneers that settled in the midwest in states like Utah, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa that had weather similar to what they were accustomed to. 


It is now a popular tourist destination in the center of wine country in the California central coast region that is just about a half-hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara.  Solvang has lots of places to taste wine, but there are also plenty of other shops vending Danish pastries and other specialty foods including cheeses and sausages.  There are lots of specialty shops there too from Christmas ornaments year-round and hand-made candles.  One of my favorite places is this shop for ice cream, candy and GREAT coffee:

This evening is Christmas Eve.  We are going to the Madonna Inn that is a half-hour drive north on Hwy. 101 in the town of San Luis Obispo. 

The Madonna Inn opened it’s doors about the same time that Disneyland did.  To say there are similarities in the design is truly an understatement.  It was created by real estate developer Alex Madonna for his wife Phyllis. “The Madonna Construction Company, under his leadership, was responsible for the construction of much of US 101 between Santa Barbara and Salinas between 1953 and 1970. In 1958, Bridges magazine named the bridge above the Twitchell Reservoir the most beautiful bridge in the country.”  Alex passed away in 2004.  Phyllis still lives in San Luis Obispo in a newly built house that looks not unlike the inn with organic-looking shingles on the roof made to look like thatching.

The rooms at the inn are themed to include unusual names such as the Yahoo, Love Nest, Old Mill, Kona Rock, Irish Hills, Cloud Nine, Just Heaven, Hearts & Flowers, Rock Bottom, Austrian Suite, Cabin Still, Old World Suite, Caveman Room, Elegance, Daisy Mae, Safari Room, Highway Suite, Jungle Rock, American Home, Bridal Falls and the Carin. 

Clearly the public areas represent Phyllis’ favorite colors red and pink.

Several years ago one of the men’s restrooms of the inn became famous when it was featured on The Travel Channel’s Worlds Top 10 Most Unusual Bathrooms. 


At Christmastime, many families like ours have made it a traditional trek to the Madonna Inn to view the over-the-top decorations in all their bravado and garishness.  It’s never the same any given year.  The food is OK.  Well -except for the Black Forest Cake from their bakery that is out of this world!


2 responses to “The Old Country Design or Disneytecture in California?

  1. Thanks for your comment Sarah. It used to really bug me –especially the residences here in Santa Maria that have featured a Swiss chalet look since I was born here in the 50’s about the same time Disneyland and The Madonna Inn were first built. The photo above of the one story house is a perfect example. You wouldn’t believe how many of these have been remodeled to try to look like Spanish villas with arched columns, clapboard walls changed to stucco and shingle roofs changed to tile, but the basic roof shape and diamond windows still remain giving way to the Bavarian roots.

    I’ve grown accustomed to it now. I even sorta like it –well enough that I would buy a house here and plan on spending the rest of my days here. I don’t think I’m going to do my livingroom up in pink and red (even if Honeysuckle Pink is the color of the year) with gilded accents.

    BTW -Merry Christmas!