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WORDS DONNA BUNCE
The Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society on Balboa Island opened the doors of its new location at 331 Marine Avenue in December 2011, and thanks in large part to the passion of Vice President and Creative Director Shirley Pepys, it preserves the island’s 109-year history.
“The history is told from before the first home was built in 1907, ‘Collins Castle,’ to present day,” Pepys says.
It is a delightful history, as you might suppose, given that the island was created by a very inventive William S. Collins, who saw Newport Bay’s resort and recreation potential and in 1906 began dredging a channel and depositing sand and silt on tidelands on what would become Balboa Island. Thanks to real estate promoters and the Pacific Electric Railway line’s Red Cars,-visitors from Los Angeles and Pasadena began appearing, eventually making Balboa Island an enchanting summer vacation spot.
After becoming a part of the City of Newport Beach in 1916, the island continued to grow. Collins’ salesman,Joseph Allan Beek, got the contract for a ferry between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula and in 1920, the first car went across the bay for 5 cents. To this day, the Beek family operates the Balboa Island Ferry.
The island had a famous summer resident in the 1930s, when Shirley Temple and her family spent summers there. The Balboa Island Museum boasts a Shirley Temple doll, movie poster, photos and old movies in tribute to the child star.
Today, Balboa Island has developed into a charming community, home to people from all walks of life. It is one of the most expensive real estate markets in North America, outside of Lower Manhattan. In comparison , with waterfront lots in 1907 going for as low as $300, a two-bedroom house with a water view from the living room can easily be valued today at $3 million.
Speaking of memorabilia, the Museum, housed in two buildings – a quaint home built in 1947 and a charming vintage cottage – is filled with wonderful artifacts reflecting life on the island. Another thing Pepys is especially proud of is the camaraderie that has developed.
“Not only have we preserved the history of Balboa Island , but we have provided the members a place to gather for social events and hearing stories from many of our Island residents,” she shares. It goes right along with the museum’s mission, “to preserve the Is land heritage and its sense of community.”