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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 70's.

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 Center.

Although Larry applauds the "rented," travelling shows that come to the Civic Arts Center, he stresses the importance of community based arts.

"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 him.