2012-07-19 / Front Page
What’s in a name? Everything
Thousand Oaks has teenager to thank for present-day moniker
Historians only know that in 1922, the Conejo School student thought of the title for a contest held by Los Angeles developer Homer A. Hansen, who challenged locals to name his newest project on the former Crowley Ranch, now the site of city hall.
Harrington’s entry won, and the “Thousand Oaks” name stuck through the decades.
The name honors some of the area’s oldest residents, who were here long before Amgen, the Janss Corporation, Jungleland, Bobby Harrington, the Newbury family, Spanish ranchers and even the Chumash.
It honors the oaks—all 50,000 or more of them.
“(The oak) is the namesake tree, and there is no other tree like an oak tree when it comes to size and stature,” said Kevin Wilson, landscape maintenance supervisor for the City of Thousand Oaks. “They live hundreds of years, so it’s a unique and grandiose tree.”
Wilson estimated that, within the city limits, there are 50,000 to 60,000 oak trees, with 4,500 oak trees along streets and boulevards, 4,500 privately owned oak trees and 50,000 in the city’s open space areas. The city doesn’t keep an official tally on the oak tree population.
“One of the things settlers noticed when they came to this area . . . was that on the flat, valley bottoms, it would look like an oak savanna,” said Rick Burgess, a senior planner with the city’s community development department. “It seemed like there were a thousand oaks here, and it turns out there’s more.”
When Thousand Oaks filed for incorporation in 1964, the Janss Corporation suggested naming the town “Conejo City.” According to Miriam Sprankling, curator of history for the Conejo Valley Historical Society, the locals led a countermovement to give the city Harrington’s winning name.
“The people didn’t like ‘Conejo City,’” she said, amidst crowded shelves of historical documents at the Stagecoach Inn Museum office. “So, they got a petition signed by enough people to put ‘Thousand Oaks’ on the incorporation ballot alongside ‘Conejo City.’”
The citizens ended up voting overwhelmi ngly for “ Thousand Oaks.” At the time, there were about 19,000 residents in the new city limits, with 400 new residents arriving every month.
“(The oak tree was) our signifying emblem, and it is a distinction in this area to be called Thousand Oaks,” Sprankling said.
The museum holds multiple historic documents that recount the city’s longtime connection with its oaks, such as a 1940 Conejo School yearbook entry that describes the eighth-grade class’s school project: a count of the oaks in Thousand Oaks.
The count marked the earliest ever recorded, and the youngsters’ total was 3,422 trees. The entry finishes on the point that “not one … shall meet destruction by carelessness of man.”
But the historical connection between Conejo Valley residents and the oak trees goes even further.
About 8,000 years ago, the first Chumash peoples settled in the Conejo Valley. According to Gil Unzueta, cultural resource advisor at the Chumash Indian Museum, they used the acorns from the oak trees as a staple of their food supply.
“When most Native Americans, for whom their main staple was acorns, today look at an oak tree, it really represents their culture,” Unzueta said. “Oak trees are kind of like our elders who take care of us. No matter what hard times we are going through, they’re always there.”
The Chumash used ground dried acorns as a type of flour for various dishes, so the Conejo Valley was an ideal spot for them to settle.
“A lot of plants played a big part in the everyday life of our ancestors, but the oak tree was one of the most significant,” said Beverly Folkes, who’s lived in Thousand Oaks since 1969 and sits on the board of directors at the Chumash Indian Museum.
“The trees still play a big part in this area, and my friends and I always joke that you can get away with some things in this city, but if you cut down an oak tree, you better watch out,” she said.
Since the 1960s, Thousand Oaks has instituted ordinances that forbid citizens from cutting down oak tr ees without going through a stringent permit proc ess. Al- though the ordinances have been relaxed in the past few years to allow removal of privately planted trees, all of the other oaks are still strictly protected.
“If I wanted to remove an oak tree … even though I am the landscape maintenance supervisor, a certified arborist and a certified tree risk assessor, I would have to go through community development to obtain a permit,” Wilson said. “So, in that sense, we do go above and beyond for oak trees in our ordinances.”
In order to maintain the oak tree population, city officials inject diseased oaks with pesticides to try to save them from crippling fungi. And when an older tree dies, the city’s policy is to plant a new one.
In addition, for the past three years on Arbor Day, the city has planted more than 100 new oak trees.
“Since I’ve been with the system, (the oak tree population) has been pretty consistent,” Wilson said.
“The oaks are so old and they grow so beautifully,” said 35-year Thousand Oaks resident Beth Needham. “They reflect the community because Thousand Oaks has grown so beautifully over the years.”
So the city continues to maintain its history of nurture for the nature it grew around—it’s all in the name.