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Chamber Hires a Pro to Turn Things Around

August 16, 1992|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOLLYWOOD — The troubled Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has hired a career chamber executive from San Pedro to revamp its operations.

Leron Gubler, 41, will replace Brooke Knapp, an aviator and former business executive who was fired as president in June after just under a year on the job. Her predecessor, Larry Kaplan, also lasted a year.

Chris P. Baumgart, chairman of the Hollywood business group, said that Gubler's 12 years as executive director of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce will fill a large gap in professional expertise at the Hollywood chamber.

"This guy has got the manual underneath his arm that says how to run a Chamber of Commerce on it," Baumgart said.

He said the search committee decided to interview Gubler after going through hundreds of resumes left over from last year's selection process.

At a meeting Wednesday, the chamber's board of directors is expected to approve a bylaw change making his job title "executive director" instead of "president."

The Hollywood group is well-known for its sponsorship of the nationally televised Hollywood Christmas parade and because it holds the marketing rights to the city-owned Hollywood sign and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In recent years, however, it has been plagued by a financial scandal and numerous internal squabbles. Some directors have resigned in recent weeks, notably the representative of the Walt Disney Co., and income from membership dues sank from nearly half a million dollars in 1988-89 to less than $400,000 in 1990-91.

Baumgart said, however, that things may be looking up. After several years when the chamber showed deficits of more than $100,000, it finished the fiscal year that ended March 31 in the black, he said.

A settlement has also been reached with the state attorney general's office to resolve a lawsuit that accused the chamber of improperly using funds intended for maintenance of the Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame. As part of the agreement, the chamber retains the right to market the images of the sign, which the chamber restored in the late 1970s, and the Walk of Fame, which it initiated in the 1960s.

The group also recently signed a five-year contract for broadcast of the Christmas parade.

Baumgart also noted that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency is about to start funding projects in Hollywood after a seven-year delay.

"The stars are lining up for (Gubler) to be successful," he said.

Gubler, a native of Porterville, Calif., holds degrees in communications and public administration from Brigham Young University. He said he decided to accept the Hollywood job despite a comfortable position in San Pedro, where he owns a house five minutes away from his office.

"There comes a point in your life where you've got to look at career options," said Gubler, who said he will commute from the port area to Hollywood for the foreseeable future. "I'm still fairly young and I wouldn't have anticipated staying here the rest of my career."

Salary was also a factor, Gubler said, although he did not say how much more he would be making. He said the challenge of running a chamber about twice the size of San Pedro's was his primary reason for leaving.

"The membership (in Hollywood) is between 800 and 900, but there's a lot of potential for growth there," Gubler said.

He is scheduled to take up his new duties Sept. 8.

Herb Zimmer, president of the San Pedro group, praised Gubler as a go-getter who was deeply involved in many community activities. Gubler was named San Pedro Citizen of the Year for 1991.

Zimmer credited Gubler with playing a central role in a variety of revitalization projects in San Pedro.

"In many respects it is because of his efforts that we have a Sheraton Hotel in San Pedro instead of an empty lot," Zimmer said.

He also praised Gubler for encouraging and expediting the construction of new office space, a marina and other improvements in the harbor area, many of which were funded through the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

"He's a consummate diplomat, the kind of guy who has the common sense and the tact and abilities necessary to make things happen," Zimmer said.

But Gubler came in for criticism in 1987, when the governing board of a social service agency blasted a Chamber of Commerce proposal to revitalize the northeast area of San Pedro as "social engineering through the bulldozer."

To demonstrate its displeasure, the board of the Toberman Settlement House dismissed Gubler from one of its committees. Gubler said at the time that the board's action was "petty stuff."

He also appeared at a chaotic meeting of angry residents of a housing project threatened by the chamber's proposal.

"I should have come to you sooner, I see now," he said. "It probably would have prevented some misperceptions."

Several businessmen familiar with Hollywood and its chamber of commerce say Gubler has his work cut out for him.

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