Walking through the streets of La Jolla, it's hard to imagine a time when "The Jewel" wasn't a top destination for vacations, or home to some of the finest hotels, restaurants and retailers on the West coast. But the truth is that didn't all just happen overnight. The key to understanding our present is actually held in La Jolla's past. A past that new Executive Director of the La Jolla Historical Society, Heath Fox, is dedicated to preserving.
Fox, who started in his new position on Sept. 4, was unanimously elected into the position by the LJHA search committee and board members.
Prior to joining the Fox held a variety of roles in the art and history world, most recently as Deputy Director of Operations at the Broad Art Foundation in Los Angeles. He is also the previous Assistant Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego from February 2006 to May 2011.
As a career military man, serving in the Marines for 20 years, Fox travelled the world and always had a keen interest in history, architecture and the arts.
La Jolla Patch sat down with Fox to learn more about his interest in La Jolla history, his vision for the LJHS, and how he hopes to get the public more involved in the stories of rich culture and history that are right outside their backdoor.
La Jolla Patch: What made you interested in becoming executive director of the LJHS?
Heath Fox: It’s an organization that has very strong community support here in La Jolla. It has great people associated with it, a very strong and capable board, a small but very capable staff, and it is in the midst of a growth phase in its organizational history. In 2008, the Wisteria Cottage, which is the main historic house on the property, was given to the Historical Society. So now we own the property, and over the past couple of years the board has been engaged in a capital campaign and has raised a little over $1.9 million and has started using the at money to historically preserve the buildings on the property. As part of this preservation effort, the interior of Wisteria Cottage is going to be adaptively changed and reused as space for exhibitions, and public programming such as lectures, educational programs and community events. It’s really exciting because we’re right at the point in our history of moving into this new phase of being able to provide better service to the public in La Jolla.
Patch: What are the top 3 things you'd like to accomplish during your time as director?
Fox: There are three major things. The first is the historic preservation project of Wisteria Cottage, which is in the planning process right now, but will take time. The second is that the 2013-2014 year is the 50th anniversary of the historical society. The first group of people who form the society met in the summer of 1963 and on July 7, 1964, it was incorporated as a non-profit. So over the course of the year we will be doing a series of activities and events to celebrate that anniversary.
Also, I hope to that over the next 2-3 years we will do programming that broadens our focus of history, and our scope of historic inquiry. We want to expand out historic focus and put a little concentration on the mid-century modern era, the 50s and 60ss, because there is an important and rich history there including architectural history, social and economic growth, and the growth of universities and research centers. There’s a real important history that took place then.
Patch: What are the biggest challenges that lie ahead of you?
Fox: I think the challenges are that we have to be thoughtful and careful as we conduct the preservation project on Wisteria Cottage, to make sure that we want to keep the significant characteristics of the cottage, but at the same time adaptively reuse the facility for uses that will be relevant and meaningful for the community today. And of course, we have to sustain ourselves financially. Every non-profit organization has challenges with financial sustainability in the wake of the recession. This organization is very strong in that regard and we will have to make sure we stay that way.
Patch: Most people would find your career path very interesting, from military man to art director, can you tell me a little bit about how you become interested in the arts / history?
Fox: I was raised in Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. When I was young person I did a lot of travelling around with my family to see historic houses and historic sites, and go through those grand old places of Charlottesville and Colonial Williamsburg. As I matured and became a young man that expanded into an interest in history of art. That was an interest that I retained throughout my adult life and I continued to visit museums and historic places throughout my military career. When I retried from the military it was an opportunity to transition into a new career in this field, in the cultural sector.
La Jolla Patch: How can the public get involved?
Fox: There are lots of opportunities. This is an organization that relies very much on volunteers from the community and people can volunteer at everything from the board level participation to planning committees that are board authorized, for a variety of things to include some of our events that provide funding support for us, like The Secret Garden Tour and Le Concours d’Elegance. We welcome anyone who would be interested in exploring what those opportunities might be.
Patch: What are some of your favorite things about La Jolla history?
Fox: Well the thing that intrigues me about La Jolla history is the architectural history; that was one of things that attracted me. There is a focus in this particular historical society on the history of the development of architecture in this community. That ranges from the cottage era, right through the mid-century and into contemporary architecture. I’m also attracted to the development of the arts that has an interesting history here. For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art traces its history back to the 1950s when the La Jolla School of the Arts was formed, and a group of artists started that.
And then of course the university development, the research centers such as the Salk Institute and the science and technology developments and the changes that that brought about, both to the population and the economic well being of this community. The model and history of that needs to be preserved with regard to education, scientific research and technological research. And the political and community environment that allowed those things to flourish here needs to be captured and told for future generations to be informed of.
Patch: What would you say to someone who isn’t necessarily interested in history, to get them involved with the Historical Society?
Fox: Well I would say, and I’m thinking ahead to when we can reopen and have a full range of programs, but one of the things I would say to them, is that there are things that are going to be interesting to you here because they’re going to relate to the period of time in which you have lived and the period of time in which the people from your family, your parents and grandparents lived. The history of La Jolla dates to the late 19th century, it is 4 generations old, and a lot of it coincides with the past century, which people will be able to relate to.
Patch:What is your favorite thing about La Jolla?
Fox: The landscape and seascape is lovely, so just walking around and looking at the community is a favorite thing of mine. It’s a lovely village, there is interesting architecture, and there is the beautiful seascape. The physical and built environment here is what I enjoy.
I also enjoy the arts in this community, MCASD, Athenaeum, a new mural project that I think is a very interesting project that I like to see. But most of all I’ve enjoyed the people since I’ve been associated with the historical society. Many of them are merchants, or business professionals, they are architects, there is a variety of people, but they have all been tremendous.
Patch: Anything else you'd like the public to know about LJHS?
Fox: To the public, stay tuned because we've got exciting things coming up and we've got our regular events on top of that, which the public can take advantage of. You’re going to see some every interesting and intriguing programs and activities from the historical society and a pristine new restoration.