Passion Drives Preservation of Balboa Island’s Heritage

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“There is a history in all men’s lives.” – William Shakespeare

One of the nicest aspects of visiting, living or owning a business on Balboa Island is all the great stories people love to tell about their memories of living, visiting or growing up there. Having lived on the island myself over the years, I heartily concur: it’s a magical, special place; and its history fascinating.

Last Sunday, after lots of hard work, the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society (BIMHS) held a “soft” opening in celebration of its new location at 331 Marine Ave. Board members, supporters and well-wishers filled the museum’s lovely, welcoming new courtyard, cheerfully decorated for the holidays.

Favorite stories could be heard being told about fond memories, the passing and changes brought with time, and the importance of preserving the island’s history and transformation over the years. If the robust attendance and enthusiasm of the crowd was any indication of its future, the BIMHS is off to a good start.

The BIMHS was originally founded by an ambitious group of Islanders, lead by Pat Buderwitz, back in 1999 and was located until recently upstairs adjacent to the Island Market near the ferry landing. Though it had limited hours, it managed to stay afloat with private donations and volunteer support.

But over the past four or five years, interest and support began to wane, and the museum was cast somewhat adrift without the necessary leadership and financial support to keep it going.

That’s when current BIMHS President Sharon Lambert and fellow board member Shirley Pepys decided to join forces with some other BIMHS supporters and volunteers to reenergize the project.

The board’s first piece of business – find a new, more visible home where the museum could also operate as an informal visitors center. Once the new location on Marine was secured (thanks in part to a slight break in rent by the building owner), Shirley, who is serving on the board as the Design Chair, generously volunteered to donate the museum’s design and décor, and literally took out her checkbook to make the contributions necessary to get the doors open in time to coincide with the recent BIIA Home Tour.

They also formed a nonprofit foundation, Friends of the Museum, and established membership and sponsorship levels that start as reasonably as $35.

“We’ve become history detectives,” says Sharon, who as a girl never missed Bal Week. “My Dad always told me, ‘no matter what you go through in life, you always have your memories,’ and one of the reasons I am so passionate about BIMHS is that there are so many people who have so many happy memories of Balboa Island.”

She continued, “It is important that we preserve the island’s heritage, help keep those memories alive and foster our strong sense of community.”

One of the clever ways in which this will be done will be presenting memorabilia cataloged by each of the island’s streets. Since many of the original homes on the island have been torn down and rebuilt, a photo archive of the homes and personal memories are being collected. Similar work is also being done to document island businesses.

Most importantly, in addition to continuing to provide a place where visitors can take a walk down memory lane, the museum will focus on producing oral and videotaped histories, as well as educational opportunities for children.

Like most undertakings of this size, it’s going to take a village to raise this child. And while the board is off to a good start and the membership has already grown to 208, BIMHS needs financial and volunteer support in order to become and remain sustainable.

To that end, if you would like to become a BIMHS sponsor, join the Friends of the Museum, purchase a membership (there is still time to become a charter member through June 2012 and be listed on a charter plaque), volunteer as a docent, or donate your memorabilia, please email [email protected] or call 949-466-5531.

Winter hours for BIMHS are Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Starting in January, the hours will expand to Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit the website at

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