Imagine getting married in the tiny town of Harmony or spending a weekend there in a cozy vacation-rental cottage.
According to town manager Tom Halen, you can even elope to Harmony, and everything will be provided for you, including the officiant, photographer, champagne toast and the cake, which can be served with Harmony Valley Creamery’s craft ice cream from the town’s very own vintage ice-cream truck.
A wedding party easily could double, triple or quadruple the former dairy town’s population, which is officially 18.
Harmony’s a popular spot for tying the knot, and wedding couples have been enthused to learn that the chapel has reopened. “We had a wedding here on Dec. 22,” Halen said during a town tour the next day, adding that two more were booked for this week.
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Various wedding packages are available, from tiny to lavish.
Harmony, a former dairying hub, is about 6 miles south of Cambria, parallel to and barely east of Highway 1. The 2.5-acre town was defined in a 1997 article in the Los Angeles Times as being “not much bigger than a typical strip mall.”
But size is where that similarity ends. A visit to the historic ranching mini-village set in the rolling coastal hills is a step back in time to 1869 and the start of the creamery. Later, cattle, cheese and butter were king, and area dairies in the Harmony Valley Creamery Association reportedly produced thousands of pounds of cheese and butter daily.
Currently, rural Harmony is home to such businesses as a working glassworks and a pottery shop that’s been there for more than four decades. The separate Harmony Cellars winery on the hill overlooking the “downtown” area is owned by Chuck and Kim Mulligan; she’s a descendant of area pioneers.
Is Harmony quirky? Yes, indeed. For instance, owner George Meyer’s legendary “Doo Dah” parade had nowhere to go in the one-block burg, so entries stayed in place and watchers walked around the parade.
The Vander Horsts
When Alan and Rebecca Vander Horst bought Harmony’s entire one-block downtown area in 2014, they had great plans to blend its past and its future. They still do. But the gap between plans and reality can take a lot more time than one might think, especially when clashes between county regulations and the realities of century-old buildings slow things down.
The Vander Horsts’ project to restore the Harmony Valley Creamery building includes a restaurant, craft cooperative and a dairy shop with an ice-cream lab and small cheese-making room.
Even though there was a restaurant in the building off and on for years, the new project brings requirements for about 40 parking spaces, Halen said. To include streetside parking in the project’s calculations, the Vander Horsts would have to own that part of Old Creamery Road.
After some negotiations about who would maintain the 90-year-old bridge at the end of the road, the Vander Horsts agreed to accept that responsibility along with the requirement to maintain the street. The county officially has “abandoned” that stretch of pavement and the bridge and handed them over to Harmony.
Solving some of the county’s other requirements may be more complicated, Halen said. Harmony “is just a little rural town off the beaten path. There are no municipal water or sewer systems,” he explained, and it will be difficult to find space for additional septic-tank leach fields.
As Alan Vander Horst said in a Dec. 21 email interview, “We still have a lot of work to do, but one step at a time, and we’ll get there eventually!”
Even with the delays, some work has been completed in Harmony, and if you haven’t been to Harmony in a couple of years, you’ll notice some obvious changes.
The former garden area and pathways — politely described previously as rustic — are now re-landscaped and tidy, with a much more solid footing than provided by the former lumpy, bumpy walkway to Harmony Pottery, the chapel and beyond. The sidewalk between the creamery building and the roadway is now brick. The plantings have either been redone or significantly spruced up. And the gazebo is ready for celebrations large and small.
The Vander Horsts also have leased from the Soto family a tidy little red cottage adjacent to the creamery building, and it’s now available as a vacation rental.
The two-bedroom, century-old cottage provides a handy hideaway in which to decompress away from metropolitan hustle, bustle and traffic. It can be ideal for couples who want to spend their wedding weekend in private, blissful harmony, so to speak.
Most wedding couples opt to marry in the chapel, which has recently been spruced up with new Saltillo tile and other flooring, along with some reconstruction and a full interior paint job triggered by the discovery and removal of a monster beehive.
The hidden hive “was probably 3 feet across and 5 or 6 feet tall,” Halen said. “The removal company estimated it could have been in the wall for 50 years.”
The bride’s room also has been redone, but the chapel’s trademark wine-barrel façade remains.
The chapel seats 40, and there’s room in the foyer for another 20 guests to stand.
Couples with larger guest lists can marry in the gazebo, or under Harmony’s towering eucalyptus trees.
“We’ve had as many as 200 people here for a birthday party,” Halen said. “We’d even rent the whole town,” one of several new options listed at www.harmonychapelca.com/wedding-packages.
The ice cream truck
Harmony has restored two vintage ice cream trucks, and Halen said lots of couples want a truck at their reception, whether it’s being held in Harmony or elsewhere.
Having two vehicles allows one to be offsite and the other to be set up in Harmony to sell cones and cups of the “craft” ice cream made in small batches. Winter hours onsite, weather permitting, are noon to 4 on weekends and holidays, he said.
The ice cream is also available in pints at Soto’s True Earth Market and Cookie Crock Market in Cambria; Cookie Crock and Spencer’s Market in Morro Bay; and California Fresh markets in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach.
Halen hopes to expand that list in 2018.
The latest in the roster of “udderly awesome” flavors is Cowtown Coffee Bean. Halen said they worked in conjunction with Spearhead Coffee in Paso Robles to develop the flavor profile and formula. Other flavors are: Doo Dah Mint ’n Chip, Blue Door Butter Pecan, Harmony Chapel Chocolate, Local Yodelers Cookies & Cream, School’s Out Strawberry and Mayor Freddy’s Vanilla Bean.
By the way, in truly eccentric Harmony fashion, the late Mayor Freddy was a Maine Coon cat.