Peter Janss, a Chicago physician, arrived in
California in the late 1800's. He was a man who
had an eye for good ranchland. He purchased 6000
acres, part of El Rancho Conejo which was originally
a 67,000 acre land grant given by the King of
Spain to Jose de la Guerra, a pony soldier rewarded
for his gallantry in protecting Spanish missionaries.
That small piece of Rancho Conejo became much
of what is Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park today.
That is history as related to me by Larry Janss,
great grandson of Peter Janss. Larry is a Thousand
Oaks resident who wears several hats - historian,
real estate developer, photographer, philanthropist,
and community activist.
He is an historian in that he is the keeper
of his own family's history as it interweaves
with the history of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo.
Larry's father worked on developing the master
plan for the city in the 60's and sold off portions
of Janss ranchland to tract developers in the
Larry Janss is a businessman. But he doesn't
like being called a "developer."
"I locate old properties that have run
their course," he explains. "I either
renovate a building or tear it down and build
anew. I don't like the idea of cutting new earth,
continuing urban sprawl."
He is a photographer who is in the process of
opening a new gallery in Thousand Oaks. His own
photos of mountain and desert panoramas are for
good reason reminiscent of the work of Ansel Adams.
Larry describes himself as having been a poor
student in high school. When his father learned
that his son's one great interest and forte was
photography, he sought to encourage that talent.
Janss' father had often visited Yosemite as a
teenager, "hanging out there with another
kid who was somewhat of Yosemite's house photographer."
That teenage buddy was Ansel Adams. So, Larry
Janss' father asked the legendary photographer
if his son could spend some time with him. Larry
subsequently spent three years studying alongside
the master in his workshop in Yosemite.
"Ansel would set up his camera," Larry
recalls, "and I would look under the dark
cloth. I'd look and question why he composed that
way. He taught me how to see photographically."
And, at the end of a day of shooting, Larry
would accompany Ansel back to his home in Yosemite.
"I would sit on his stoop in the twilight,
drink cocktails, and listen to his stories of
the golden age of photography."
Larry Janss describes those nights listening
to his mentor as "biblical." Ansel Adams
was simply reminiscing about his pals. But his
pals were, Alfred Stieglitz, perhaps the century's
greatest pioneer of photography as an art form;
and photographers, writers and artists like Edward
Westen, D.H. Lawrence, and Georgia O'Keefe.
Larry Janss is a philanthropist who helped found
a group called the Gold Coast Performing Arts
Association. The Association comprises the Civic
Light Opera, a theatre company called Gold Coast
Players, Marla Bingham's Contemporary Ballet,
the Young Artists Ensemble, and the New West Symphony.
These community art groups put on about 25% of
all the shows at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts
Although Larry applauds the "rented,"
travelling shows that come to the Civic Arts Center,
he stresses the importance of community based
"What we do is cast the significant roles
with as highly a professional name as we can afford,"
he explains, "and the rest of the talent
are locals. By casting locals around a 'star',
we kind of raise the bar. All the local performers
must come up to professionalism that the pros
bring to the table. It's a great formula."
Larry also emphasizes that money spent on locally
produced arts stays in this community as opposed
to flowing out of the community, into the pockets
of highly compensated travelling stars. But professionally
mounted community based arts programs generally
don't pay their way.
"I spend half my time begging for money
to promote the community arts," Larry laments.
And, perhaps with an eye to encouraging the City
of Thousand Oaks to help fund community arts,
Larry mentioned that the City of Cerritos puts
two million dollars a year into funding is own
community performing arts program.
Larry Janss - historian, businessman, photographer,
philanthropist, activist - continues in his family's
tradition of helping to develop and improve the
Conejo. Perhaps some day they'll name a road after