In the December 16, 2011 issue of the Indy, I wrote a column entitled “Passion Drives Preservation of Balboa Island’s Heritage,” about the reopening of the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society at its quaint new historical location on Marine Avenue.
It’s hard to believe that more than two years have gone by since that time, and today, the Museum is solidly moving forward and making plans for the next steps in preserving the island’s past for future generations.
Though the museum space is diminutive, the history of Balboa Island (and Newport Beach) it contains within is rich and expansive. With photo montages, didactics and exhibits that help us imagine a much simpler time, we are able to witness the island’s remarkable transformation from a low-key seaside get-away to the upscale community and travel destination it is today.
Key to these past few years of transformation for the museum has been the substantial support and leadership of Balboa Island resident Shirley Pepys, creative director and unofficial curator of the museum.
I sat down with Pepys in her beautiful bay front living room for a chat about her involvement. I could have stayed for hours listening to the stories. She cites one of the reasons she is so passionate about the museum is the fact that she lives in one of the oldest and iconic homes on the island at 526 S. Bay Front.
Pepys shared that the home was constructed in 1913 in the wide roofline style that was common in the island’s few, earliest dwellings. Pepys has been piecing the home’s history together over the past 20 years she’s lived there, and while some documentation is missing, she has uncovered that the land was purchased in June 1911 by Leonora May Collins, the sister-in-law of W.S. Collins, the original developer of Balboa Island.
I asked her about how and why she got involved.
“Timing is everything; sometimes things come to a perfect storm as they have with my involvement in the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society,” she told me. “A few years after my husband passed, I decided it looked like the kind of challenge I would enjoy. I joined the board, began looking for the Museum’s new location and got busy launching a membership campaign.”
“It all came together and has been a great way for me to spend my time and focus,” she added. “In all the experiences I’ve had in philanthropy, I have never felt so appreciated. Island residents, board members, museum supporters, and the community have been incredibly kind and encouraging. It has made all my involvement so worthwhile, and I am looking forward to working with them all in furthering the museum expansion and its offerings to our community.”
In a stroke of the sharp business and philanthropic instinct for which she is known, Pepys decided to host a private fundraiser using the 100 year celebration of her historic home as a means of raising support and building awareness for the museum. The evening will be complete with Santa and the playful penguin display and décor the house has become known for during the holidays.
Pepys added, “So much has happened in the last 100 years—wars, cultural upheaval, technology, the formation of this community —that I couldn’t let the occasion go by without celebrating it to benefit the Museum and continue its heritage. I feel very fortunate that in this last 100 years, none of the previous owners ever made a decision to tear the house down.”
Lucky for us, Pepys says she’d never consider it either.
If you would like to make a donation to the museum, volunteer, or contribute historical items to its archives, please visit balboaislandmuseum.org.
Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Reach her at [email protected].