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Longtime Balboa Peninsula chronicler exhibits photos at island museum

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Longtime Newport Beach resident and photographer Jim Fournier, 80, poses with his 15-year-old cat at their home. An exhibit of Fournier’s work is on display at the Balboa Island Museum.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It gradually became second nature for 80-year-old Jim Fournier to chronicle the charms of Newport Beach.

Fournier, now retired, moved to the Balboa Peninsula in the late 1970s and never left. Over the years, he created a weekly newspaper that was distributed locally, started a blog and wrote three self-published books.

His latest endeavor is a photo exhibit at the Balboa Island Museum, which opened in November and will be on display for at least the next three months.

The exhibit showcases signature features of Newport Beach: sea lions taking over boats, sunsets cut with an ocean horizon and the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race.

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“Jim is a legend around here. He’s been around forever,” said Tiffany Pepys Hoey, the museum’s executive director and curator.

Hoey first met Fournier as a child when her mother, museum President Shirley Pepys, asked him to dress up as Santa Claus at their Christmas parties. But she became familiar with him when she started working at the museum’s new location, 210 Marine Ave., last year.

The museum sells Fournier’s books and uses them for research. Hoey also reached out to Fournier to include him in the museum’s local artists nook.

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Part of Fournier’s photo exhibit that is now on display at the Balboa Island Museum.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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Fournier came to California from Chicago in the 50s as a teenager after his parents got divorced and his mother, seeking a fresh start, moved the family to San Bernardino.

She later signed a waiver so Fournier could enlist in the U.S. Air Force at age 17.

After four years in the service, Fournier got married and settled in Pomona, where he raised two kids while also traveling the world as a photography equipment salesman. After his marriage ended, he moved to the Bayside Villa apartments in Newport Beach — the last place in the city that had outdoor toilets, he recalls. It was 1978 and he wore silk button-down shirts and slacks on casual days and a full suit on work days.

While today he describes the area as “Andy Griffith’s Mayberry with a beach, carnival and bars,” not all of the memories of his time on the Balboa Peninsula are fond ones. Fournier was even homeless for a few months and lived in his car.

“The photographic industry collapsed [in the 80s],” he said. “It just went down the tubes and I went bankrupt.”

He took odd jobs around town until he found an apartment complex on Balboa Boulevard, where he still lives with his 15-year-old cat. He also manages the property.

Fournier started writing the Balboa Blab, a weekly publication, as a joke in the mid-1990s. It lasted a decade and included ads, stories, event listings, jokes and trivia. He eventually gave it up because it was too much work, but continued a version of it online at talesofbalboa.com.

At its height, the website — which includes a live camera that takes photos of the Balboa Island Ferry every 10 seconds — drew 1,000 daily visitors.

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Nowadays, Fournier estimates that the blog gets about four daily visitors. It took a backseat when he opened his since-shuttered photography business, Balboa Gallery, in the early 2000s.

The website account expires in July and, if no one contacts him to take it over, he said he won’t renew it.

Regardless of whether a successor emerges, Fournier said he plans to keep shooting photos for fun and to continue recording a fading Balboa he once knew.

He will remain a common sight around these parts — roaming the area and perusing museum nooks in his fiddler fisherman cap and aviator-style glasses.

After all these years, why does the area still matter so much to Fournier?

“It’s history,” he said. “I’d be lost. And people get a kick out of it.”

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