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Judith Dale: What was Buellton like during the 1920s?
Literary Corner

Judith Dale: What was Buellton like during the 1920s?

From the Series: Get to know the Central Coast a little better with the help of Judith Dale series
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After writing the article about the 1920s in the U.S.A., many people emailed asking me to write about the 1920s in the Santa Ynez Valley. After doing a little research, I found it to be an interesting era and a time of great change and growth in our valley.

As I started to write the article, I realized it was going to be a book, not an article. So I decided to write two articles, one about Buellton and Solvang – starting with Buellton.

Two major events happened in the 1920s that set the groundwork for what the city of Buellton is today. The first occurred in December 1920 when Buellton was granted an official federal post office. The second was in 1924 when Anton and Juliette Andersen opened Andersen’s Electric Café.

Let’s look at the history of each of these events.

December 1920, Buellton: The last of the five towns in Santa Ynez Valley

Even before the federal post office in 1920, the Buell Ranch was a complete town within itself as far back as 1875.

In 1864, Buellton’s founder, Rufus Thompson Buell, and his brother purchased part of Rancho San Carlos de Jonata, a 26,000-acre Mexican land grant from Jose Covarrubias and Joaquin Carrillo of Santa Barbara.

In 1872, Buell bought the entire rancho and dissolved the partnership with his brother Alonzo. Over the next two years, Buell invested over $100,000 into the ranch (a huge sum in those days).

He increased his dairy heard to 1,200 cows, his cattle to 3,500 head, and his sheep to 1,700. He also had over 700 hogs. Buell planted barley and wheat, put in orchards and planted vineyards. His ranch employed over 50 men, had a local post office, general store and school for the children.

The ranch was a small town within itself.

But prolonged drought in the mid 1870s threatened Buell with ruin as he had borrowed heavily against the ranch to develop it. Buell was forced to sell 12,000 acres in 1890 to get back on a firm financial footing. (Part of this acreage was later purchased by the Danish-American Corporation to establish Solvang.)

Buell died in 1905 at the age of 78, leaving a wife Emily Budd and six sons. Linus, his oldest son from a previous marriage, managed the farm until the younger children reached maturity, then each would receive a part of the ranch.

Linus is credited with saving the family estate after his father's death. The ranch was split into seven parts in 1913.

Then William Budd, the brother of Buell's wife Emily, and Buell's brother-in-law, applied to the federal government for a post office in 1920. A town called “Buell” already existed in Buell, Oregon and had a federally recognized post office, so the name Buell was denied.

Budd changed his application to “Buellton”, and it was granted. Buellton was now an official town. William Budd not only obtained “official” status for the post office, but also established and operated many businesses in Buellton – one of which was a small store purchased by Anton and Juliette Andersen in 1924, which became Andersen’s Electric Café, the forerunner of Andersen’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant.

1924, Andersen’s Electric Café established

Just as the Roaring Twenties were upon America, the new town of Buellton was being established on the Coast Highway (it would later become Highway 101). There were now seven Buell ranches, one of which was open to commercial development to become a new town along the Coast Highway.

In 1922, the highway went from a dirt road to a paved highway going right through the new town of Buellton. The new highway brought new businesses and new residents to the area. Homes were built and services added to meet the needs of the traveling public.

This led to the second major event in the 1920’s - the opening of Andersen’s Electric Café in 1924.

Anton Andersen was from Denmark and his wife, Juliette, from France. Together they established a restaurant renowned for its split-pea soup, a secret recipe of Juliette’s. The restaurant was originally named Andersen’s Electric Café because it had one of the first electric stoves in the area.

Anton and Juliette began their new venture by serving simple, wholesome everyday foods: hot cakes and coffee, ice cream sodas and such, to highway travelers.

Their first customers were the salesmen, tourists and truck drivers who drove the main highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The cafe was on the road to the fabulous Hearst Castle at San Simeon and as this was the heyday of Hearst's newspaper empire.

Many of the Hearst writers and reporters developed the habit of stopping at Andersen's. Their praise of excellent food and hospitable atmosphere was carried in their newspaper columns throughout the entire country.

In 1928, the Andersen’s dug a well and built a hotel and large dining room to meet the needs of their traveling guests. Business was booming and Buellton was “on the map” just three years after the first bowl of pea soup was served, the Andersen’s ordered one ton of peas.

When faced with the problem of how to store one ton of peas, Anton solved it by putting them in the window, proclaiming the restaurant, “The Home of Split Pea Soup.” The slogan carries on to this day.

Anton and Juliette had a son, Robert, who after graduating from Stanford in the 1930s returned to operate the restaurant. He is credited with establishing the billboards along Highway 101 that advertise Andersen’s.

He also worked to get permission to use the two comic chefs standing at the chopping table, a small one named Pea-Wee holding a huge chisel and the other named Hap-Pea) swinging a big mallet.

In 1965, Robert sold the restaurant to Vince Evans, a veteran that served in World War II with Ronald Reagan, who purchased a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The restaurant thrived under Evans management, and he expanded the business to include other tourist attractions such as an aviary filled with parrots and a train ride for children. Unfortunately in 1980, Vince, his wife Margery and their 21-year-old daughter, Venetia were killed in a small plane crash just minutes from the Santa Ynez Airport.

Milt Guggia, a Central Coast restaurateur now owns Anderson’s and the A.J. Spurs Restaurant.

Buellton today

Buellton has always been the “Gateway to the Santa Ynez Valley,” with traffic coming in from north, south, east and west. The Central Coast is now famous for many reasons and Pea Soup Andersen’s remains high on the list along with Solvang and wine country.

Thanks to the foundation that was laid in the 1920s, Buellton is no longer just a tourist pass-through. With a population of over 5,000 residents, it is a city with a balance of residential, commercial, and tourist businesses. 

Photos: Franklin autos visit the Central Coast

Former mayor of Buellton, Judith Dale built her career in education and continues to serve the local community as Santa Barbara County 3rd District representative to the Library Advisory Board and board member of the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation. She can be reached at judith@hwy246.net

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