Residents Rally for Greenwich Village : Community: Despite the area's reputation after a fatal drive-by shooting, homeowners and police say Thousand Oaks' Old Town has improved.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was just before sunset and there were 10 children milling about in Peter Greer's front yard in the Greenwich Village neighborhood north of Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

Some were busy yanking lemons from a fragrant citrus tree next to Greer's driveway, some were patting his exuberant dog and one small boy was trying his hardest to escape his mother's clutches and ride his bicycle out onto the street.

Only one of these children, 13-year-old Virginia, was Greer's. The rest belonged to Louise Reid and her sister-in-law Ivy Reid, who were respectively hanging on to the bike rider and cradling an 11-month-old baby.

"This is the reason I live here," Greer said, gesturing at the noisy, cheerful bunch. "They've all grown up together. There are 38 kids from this corner to that corner."

It is one of Thousand Oaks' oldest neighborhoods, an area of about 3,100 people, subdivided and settled in the mid-1920s as vacation getaways, complete with cabins overlooking the Conejo Creek. Right next to what was then Ventura Boulevard and is now Thousand Oaks Boulevard, it was home to many of the city's pioneers, including the Hodencamps and the Flittners.

It is bordered to the south by Greenwich Drive, to the north by Benson Drive, to the west by Hodencamp Drive and the Moorpark Freeway to the east.

No one knows quite how the name came about.

City Planner Mike Sangster said he thought it might have been selected in homage to old England, or it could just have been the whim of some fanciful developer.

Miriam Sprankling, curator of history at the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, said the area is often referred to as Old Town--in fact residents who have lived in Greenwich Village for years are more likely to call it that than by its technical name.

Sprankling could not confirm where the name came from, but had one suggestion. The land was purchased in 1887 by a man named Greenbury Crowley, who came from Missouri. He and his descendants farmed the land for three generations before it was sold to a developer. Crowley's nickname was Green.

"Maybe they decided to name it after the original Green," Sprankling said.

Four years ago, Greenwich Village achieved a certain unwanted notoriety around town, the kind of reputation that still makes one city planner wince a little and refer to it as "troubled."

In May, 1991, it was the site of the first--and only--drive-by shooting fatality in Thousand Oaks' history. A young mother was shot and killed in the driveway of her boyfriend's Houston Drive house by members of the Small Town Hoods, seeking revenge on a rival gang, the Houston Hoods.

A year later, a 24 year-old homeless man was found shot to death in his car on Greenwich Drive. His slaying was never solved, although police believe it was drug-related.

These two deaths, coupled with a persistent graffiti problem and a higher density of lower-income families compared to the rest of generally wealthy Thousand Oaks, helped make Greenwich Village a less than desirable neighborhood.

Instead of evoking old England or trendy, bohemian lower Manhattan, in Thousand Oaks the name Greenwich Village conjures up images of young gangbangers and flying bullets for most outsiders.

But for insiders like Greer and his neighbors, Greenwich Village is a place to be believed in, a place to raise children and make friends.

"We like it because it's a little bit of rural neighborhood right here in the middle of Thousand Oaks," Louise Reid said.

"We all watch out for each other, always," her sister-in-law Ivy chimed in. "We can depend on each other."

Other neighborhood loyalists include Councilman Andy Fox, who--in what little spare time he has between firefighting and council business--serves as the Neighborhood Watch captain for Greenwich Village.

A resident of Masterson Drive for 10 years, Fox was also active in a failed attempt last summer to convince the city to change the name of Houston Drive, where 20-year-old Jennifer Jordan died. The plea to change the street's name was rejected because it was seen as an inconvenience and only 35 of the 69 households along Houston Drive had requested it.

Fox said residents hope to bring the issue before the council again.

"From a property value standpoint, most realtors say that there is still a bad connotation with the shooting that occurred," he said.

Because of his election to the council and resulting conflicts of interest, Fox said he will soon turn over his position as neighborhood watch captain to someone else. East County Sheriff's Deputy Patti Dreyer said Fox and other Neighborhood Watch members should be credited for what she says is a remarkable change in the neighborhood over the past few years.

"I really have to say bravo to them," Dreyer said. "I remember going to calls in that area where we had gang members gathering in the streets. I can't tell you, we were taking rocks from them. That neighborhood should be applauded.

"The community has really gotten together," she added. "They became very aggressive and decided to take an active stance."

Calls to police have dropped off sharply in recent years, Dreyer said. Deputies used to drive out to the neighborhood four or five times on a weekend evening, but now they are likely to go there once a night.

In February there were 33 emergency calls placed to the police from Greenwich Village, all of them minor disturbances, noise and traffic complaints. There was only one report of vandalism.

"That's not too unreasonable," Dreyer said. "No assault with deadly weapons, no murders, no rapes, no auto theft. Most of these things are what I would call annoyance calls."

From Kim Giannini's perspective, that is exactly how things should be. Pulling her two children down Brossard Drive in a red Radio Flyer wagon, she said the improvements are a direct result of residents' involvement.

"We're trying to take the neighborhood back," Giannini said. "And it's working."

She and her husband, who live on Houston Drive, chose the area because it was affordable, she said.

"There are a lot of young couples trying to clean it up," Giannini said.

Some graffiti markings still appear around the neighborhood, especially along one wall near the site of Jordan's murder. But Sheriff's Department major crimes Sgt. Frank O'Hanlon said they have dwindled.

Although the active Neighborhood Watch group deserves praise, O'Hanlon said part of the reason for the cleanup has to do with the maturation of former gang members as well.

"Houston Drive was kind of like the birthplace of one of the major gangs in Thousand Oaks," O'Hanlon said. "What's happened since then is that some of the founding fathers have grown up and either gone to jail or found that gang membership is not the way to go."

Nancy Russell, who lives on Benson Drive with her family, said she believes that the drive-by shooting was an isolated incident.

"We have a Neighborhood Watch out of it and that was nice," Russell said. "But we've always walked at night and everything."

Russell isn't the only walker in the neighborhood. Many others said they value Greenwich Village's proximity to downtown Thousand Oaks precisely because it allows them to walk, an almost unthinkable activity in Southern California.

"From here you can walk anywhere," Greer said.

And Greenwich Village resident Sean Davis, an attorney with Cohen, Clayton & Alexander, which has offices nearby, has taken that one step further.

"I've been seen skateboarding down the street with a briefcase," Davis said.

Davis is the son of Virginia Davis, chairwoman of the Board of Governors of the performing arts center. Like many others, he said he was drawn to the neighborhood by affordability of housing.

"It's a quaint little place," Davis said. "It kind of has that atmosphere of old Thousand Oaks."

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