By Pat Sherman
The La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) hired longtime Carlsbad resident Heath Fox as its new executive director, following a search that began in February. Fox, a retired U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel, served as associate director of administration for both the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego Museum of Art, both located in Balboa Park. More recently, he spent five years as assistant dean of arts and humanities at UC San Diego and served as a consultant for a new museum the Broad Art Foundation is building in Los Angeles.
Fox, who replaces former executive director John Bolthouse and interim executive director F.H. “Trip” Bennett, will oversee three fulltime and three part-time staffers at the society, which has an annual operating budget of about $500,000. Fox’s salary falls within the range of $77,000 to $81,000, which the LJHS board’s executive committee budgeted for the position, said Connie Branscomb, the board’s immediate past president.
Qualifications the board sought for the position included: experience leading a nonprofit arts or cultural organization; organizational management and/or supervisory experience such as strategic planning and staff supervision; financial management experience; and experience managing museum exhibits and archives.
“We are very, very happy with Heath Fox,” said Branscomb, who served on the committee that selected Fox from an initial pool of 46 applicants, five of which were called in for interviews. “He brings to this job all the qualities that we think that we need.”
Fox said he was seeking an opportunity to be executive director of a cultural institution after finishing his consulting job in Los Angeles with the Broad Art Foundation.
“The society is in a really exciting part of its organizational history right now,” he said, nothing a planned restoration of Wisteria Cottage on Prospect Street, where the society’s museum and exhibit space are held.
The building, which once served as a residence for founding La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, has also housed a bookstore and the Balmer School, a precursor to La Jolla Country Day School.
The restoration, designed by Ione Stiegler of La Jolla-based IS Architecture, is expected to begin in February, coinciding with the LJHS’s 50th anniversary year.
Fox said the society is planning additional activities and events throughout the year to mark the anniversary, which falls in June.
“The society is a very strong organization, in large part because of the community leadership and the community support that it has,” he said, noting the strength of events such as the Secret Garden Tour and Concours d’Elegance. “I’ve been so impressed by the level of activity of the board and the volunteers — the scope of their involvement and the sincerity of their commitment,” he said. “It’s just an extraordinarily strong organization for this community.”
Fox said that while the society has done a great job with its efforts to preserve La Jolla’s beach cottages and other pre-World War II era structures, he’d also like to focus on The Village’s mid-century modern architecture of the 1950s and ’60s, which has now reached the threshold where it can be deemed historic and saved from demolition.
“I want to engage the community in this conversation ... and start to come to understand myself where those important structures are, which ones may be under threat,” he said.
“I do intend to be involved in all aspects of what the society does, from the internal management and administration of the society ... (to) listening to the community and responding to the concerns of the community on these topics.”
Fox said he sees an opportunity to increase the amount and level of programs offered by the society, once the renovation is complete.
“We’ve just started a young architects program for the summer for secondary schools,” he said. “I’d like to see us be able to grow that and add some school-based programs in the summer, as well as continue to do the lecture series. We’re just going to have a better facility to do it in.”
The restoration of Wisteria Cottage will be the first major rehabilitation of the structure, and will include the addition of a prep kitchen and meeting space to accommodate weddings and functions that will generate additional revenue for the society, Branscomb said.
Other planned improvements include humidity controls and lighting upgrades, which are required to borrow exhibits from other museums and archives, and a lift that will allow disabled access to a lower floor that is currently being used for storage. The lift will be funded, in part, via a $30,000 donation from Las Patronas.
• La Jolla Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, collection, and preservation of La Jolla’s heritage. For more information, visit