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Trip of the Week

Gentle Love Story With a Mapped-Out Plot

December 20, 1987|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms of Laguna Beach are authors of "Away for the Weekend," a travel guide to Southern California.

BALLARD — Romantics will love this tiny historic town just north of Santa Barbara and Solvang. It started as a love story.

In the mid-1800s William N. Ballard settled in the Santa Ynez Valley and established a stagecoach station on the Yuma-to-San Francisco run. He also took care of business interests for a friend, George Lewis, a landowner and surveyor who was spending considerable time in Mexico.

When Ballard became seriously ill he sent East for his fiancee, Cynthia Lunsford, and they were married. Ballard died soon afterward. However, just before he passed away, he made his new wife promise that she would marry his friend Lewis.

Cynthia kept her word. When Lewis plotted a town in 1881, he named it in honor of his friend, his wife's first husband.

Ballard is home to 81 families, a population of 500 or so that increases temporarily when city folks stop by to enjoy the tranquillity of a small town from bygone times.

It still has a little red schoolhouse where Ballard youngsters have been going to class since 1883. At recess, kids swing on a rope that hangs from an enormous black walnut tree.

Mickey Married Ava

One block away a steepled belfry and fish-scale shingles mark the Ballard Country Church, built in 1898 by the town's Presbyterians.

Its bell was ordered from Montgomery Ward & Co. and once rang for Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner, who were married in Ballard. The church has since become a funeral chapel but continues to be used for weddings.

At the edge of town a modern Presbyterian church serves the Santa Ynez Valley. It also brings Ballard some unexpected commotion when President Reagan arrives for services during vacations at his nearby ranch.

But most of the time the town is so quiet that cats lazily cross the main road with nary a glance for traffic.

Things did get a bit busier after a New York-trained chef arrived in 1970 with his wife and family. Alice and John Elliott converted a small grocery with a gas pump out front into a cozy country restaurant, the Ballard Store.

Soon cars from the valley, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles were arriving with eager diners who had heard or read about the Elliotts' fine fare. Business got so good that four years ago the family added another dining room, expanded the kitchen and installed a wine bar and cellar.

Brunch Is an Event

Besides dinners that feature such entrees as oysters Rockefeller, rack of baby lamb and roulade of beef, lunch and Sunday brunch also are served (closed Monday and Tuesday).

Brunch is an event, with selections such as a cheese souffle with lobster Newburg, Idaho brook trout and German apple pancake flambe.

All 18 entrees ($11.50/$15) include champagne or a Ramos fizz, plus choice of fresh fruit, bacon, pork chops, sausage links, pan-fried potatoes, fresh-baked muffins, French bread and sticky buns. Served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Phone (805) 688-5319 to make reservations at the Ballard Store Restaurant and Wine Bar, 2449 Baseline Ave.

Just across the street is another reason for visiting the valley's oldest town. It's the Ballard Inn, a perfect hideaway in this rural region that's well-known for its wineries and horse farms.

The inn, which opened in 1985, was built by a limited partnership of horse breeders who wanted a place for their friends to stay when they came for a visit.

Guests can choose from 15 rooms, all decorated with historical themes that have ties to the valley. Cynthia's Room, for instance, features a double wedding-ring quilt and portraits of her two husbands.

In the Lyons' Room, dedicated to two sisters who taught at Ballard's landmark school, old-fashioned school desks serve as bedside tables. There are Indian artifacts in Jarardo's Room, named for the Chumash Indian who helped Ballard build his adobe stagecoach stop.

No TV, No Phones

All rooms in the two-story inn feature queen-size beds with handmade quilt comforters, private bath and a welcoming basket of fruit, crackers and cheese. (Absent are TV sets and telephones.)

Fireplaces warm seven of the guest rooms as well as the antique-filled living and dining rooms, where everyone gathers for afternoon tea and a full breakfast.

Valley wines and hot hors d'oeuvres highlight the 4 p.m. get-togethers, while the morning repast begins at a buffet of home-baked pastries and fresh fruit with yogurt and whipped-cream topping. Chef Linda Townsend prepares main treats such as eggs Benedict, Solvang sausage and French toast with fried bananas.

Many guests enjoy an early cup of coffee on the front porch, rocking in the wicker chairs that look past a white picket fence to Ballard's main street. From the porch you might see Joe, the town's elderly jogger, or be joined by Gloria, the inn's golden Angora cat.

Room rates at the Ballard Inn are $130/$170, including tea and breakfast. Call innkeeper Beth Bryan for reservations, (805) 688-7770. No children or pets.

She'll also make dinner reservations at the Ballard Store or other valley restaurants, and can direct you to nearby attractions.

Winery Welcomes Guests

Just south of town, visitors are welcome at the rustic red barn that marks the winery of J. Carey Cellars. A couple of miles north are the 11 Los Olivos art galleries.

To explore Ballard's history and town site in depth, you may want to get a copy of the "Ballard Walking Tour" booklet, ($4), by Jim Norris, Olive Press Publications, P.O. Box 99, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441; telephone (805) 688-2445.

You can reach Ballard from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 beyond Santa Barbara to join California 154 east to Los Olivos; then take Alamo Pintado Road south to Baseline Avenue.

As an alternative route from U.S. 101, go east on California 246 through Solvang and turn north on Alamo Pintado Road.

Round trip for a love ballad in Ballard is 270 miles.

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