Veteran history buff takes helm of Historical Society

They found all three in John Bolthouse, the society’s newest executive director, who replaces Pat Dahlberg after three years of service.

“We were looking for someone full-time who had experience in managing a staff and who would be willing to help us raise money,” said Historical Society President Judy Haxo.

Haxo said Bolthouse comes aboard at a critical time.

“Several years ago, the board sat down and said, ‘We are at a stage when we need to either grow or shrink,’ ” she said. “So, the board made a commitment to grow.”

And grow it must, since the society’s present facilities, a 1909 beach cottage office at 7446 Eads Ave. and adjoining carriage house behind the historic Wisteria Cottage, are already too small.

A planned expansion of the society’s facilities was made possible in 2005 by the Roger Revelle family, owners of Wisteria Cottage, who negotiated a 10-year lease with the Historical Society to take over the former John Cole’s Book Shop. The historic cottage has since been cleaned out, and architectural firm Zagrodnik & Thomas has been engaged to draw up plans for remodeling the structure, turning it into a new headquarters with exhibit space.

Outgoing Society Executive Director Dahlberg wished Bolthouse well.

“La Jolla Historical Society is moving in a new direction,” she said. “A full-time executive director with John’s experience as a professional archivist will help La Jolla preserve its history and make it more available to its residents.”

One of Bolthouse’s top priorities as the Historical Society’s new executive director will be to connect the community with its historical roots.

“We have some exciting things coming up,” he said. “We really want the public to feel like they have a personal stake as individuals and as a community in helping us bring the history of La Jolla to them.”

Bolthouse was interested in the position offered by La Jolla Historical Society for a variety of reasons.

“Anything that has to do with history is appealing to me,” he said. “I’ve been interested in history virtually all my life. My entire career has been in non-profit. Combining history and non-profit is what I’m all about.”

Bolthouse moved to San Diego in 1997 to attend grad school at the University of San Diego. While there, he was archivist at the Tailhook Association, an organization dedicated to the history and promotion of Naval carrier aviation.

At Tailhook, Bolthouse began work on identifying, cataloging and preserving the thousands of photographs, slides, books, documents and artifacts in the Tailhook collection.

Bolthouse left Tailhook to become assistant curator at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, where he helped design and create many of the museum’s exhibits, organized its library, managed the museum’s newsletter and coordinated volunteers in performing research and doing public relations.

Bolthouse returned to California as head archivist at the San Diego Aerospace Museum in June 2000. He served as both deputy director for operations and as vice president for operations. During his tenure, he was instrumental in acquiring many of the unique artifacts presently on display, as well as helping the museum achieve affiliate status with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Topping Bolthouse’s to-do list will be burnishing the Historical Society’s public image.

“The first challenge will be making sure people know about us,” he said, “that we exist, that we’re out here and that we’re a positive contributor to the community.”

One of the most important tasks of a historical society is to serve as a public resource.

“We want to be a friendly advocate for the history of La Jolla,” Bolthouse said, “to help people understand and see how important their history is.”

Once Wisteria Cottage is renovated, the Historical Society’s new digs will include a gift shop, public meeting space and, most importantly, have room to showcase the Jewel’s historical memorabilia. Bolthouse’s vision for public exhibition calls for two-thirds of the space to contain permanent exhibits. The other third will have rotating exhibits dealing with subjects like La Jolla arts and crafts.

“It helps raise the visibility of not just the organization,” said Bolthouse, “but of La Jolla as a whole.”

Being a repository for historical artifacts is much more than just housing them.

“It’s interpreting them,” said Bolthouse, “presenting them to the public in a manner that puts them in proper context so that they can understand it. Like an art museum where you’re trying to interpret a piece of artwork, it’s the same thing with a three-dimensional image or artifact. It’s all about preserving those objects that speak to our social fabric.”

Bolthouse’s fund-raising debut will come at the society’s annual Ellen Browning Scripps Birthday Luncheon at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 11:30 a.m. UCSD Chancellor Marye Ann Fox will give a presentation titled “From Roger Revelle’s Vision to Marye Ann Fox’s Reality.”

The Scripps luncheon is one of the quarterly events sponsored by the society for its members. Reservations are required and tickets are $50 per person. For more information, call the La Jolla Historical Society at (858) 459-5335.