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Jeffrey Chandler dies at 70; part of family that built the Los Angeles Times

He was the last Chandler to play a significant role in the newspaper's ownership. He helped engineer the sale of Tribune Co. to Sam Zell.

April 20, 2012|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times
  • Jeffrey Chandler was a radio station owner in the San Diego area and a real estate developer.
Jeffrey Chandler was a radio station owner in the San Diego area and a real… ( )

Jeffrey Chandler, an influential member of the family that built the Los Angeles Times and the last person with the Chandler name to play a significant role in the newspaper's ownership, has died. He was 70.

Chandler, who had been a radio station owner and real estate developer in the San Diego area, died Sunday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer, his family announced.

Long a maverick who sought to return The Times to its conservative roots, Chandler was one of three representatives of his family on the Tribune Co. board of directors who forced a sale of the company to a group headed by Chicago real estate investor Sam Zell in 2007.

Tribune had bought Times Mirror, the parent company of The Times, seven years earlier, although the Chandlers kept a significant chunk of stock. With the sale to Zell, the Chandlers ceased to have an ownership stake in the business that had been purchased by their ancestor, Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, in 1884.

Although Chandler and his relatives were criticized by civic and journalism figures at the time for selling out the family's legacy for slightly more than $1.6 billion, the move may have proved prescient financially. Although the value of the company had already declined significantly, it continued to drop as the newspaper industry struggled with changing reader and advertiser habits and the broader recession. Within less than two years, Zell's highly leveraged deal had proven untenable and the company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

If Chandler felt regret or relief upon the sale of his family's ownership position, he did not express it publicly. Like many members of his extended family, he did not speak to reporters from the newspaper that created his fortune. He was among many Chandlers who became disaffected over the direction of the paper under the leadership of his first cousin, Otis Chandler, who became publisher of The Times in 1960. Otis claimed the position by leapfrogging the heir apparent, Philip Chandler, who was Jeffrey's father and Otis' uncle.

Simmering family resentment turned public in 1995, when Jeffrey Chandler and his sister, Corinne Werdel, were quoted in Forbes magazine complaining about the liberal drift of the paper. They specifically cited The Times' coverage of "environmental racism" — patterns of pollution in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods — and its coverage of gay rights and the AIDS epidemic.

"This is a mainstream paper and the homosexual population is 1% to 1.5%," Chandler said. "When you start featuring these kinds of stories the way The Times does, you think, yes, it's important to talk about AIDS. That's something society should be concerned about and solve. But, my God, you've got a campaign going on here."

There was no evidence that those complaints, or a later study commissioned by the dissident Chandlers to document their claims of liberal bias, ever bore fruit. However, the year after the Forbes article, Otis Chandler shot back, telling Vanity Fair magazine that his relatives were a bunch of "coupon clippers" and "elitists." He later claimed he had been misquoted, but the damage had been done. Otis Chandler died in 2006.

Jeffrey Chandler, known as Jeff, was born Jan. 18, 1942, in Los Angeles, the son of Philip Chandler and Alberta Williamson Chandler. He was the grandson of Harry Chandler, who married Gen. Otis' daughter and became the business dynamo behind much of The Times' early success.

Jeff Chandler grew up in Pasadena, attending Polytechnic High School and later USC. He spent childhood summers on Balboa Island, where he developed a lifelong love of sailing. In 1995 he competed in the Transpac race from San Pedro to Hawaii in his boat Pressure Cooker.

A tribute to Chandler this week on the sailing site called him "one of those owners who wanted to do well, but wanted to have a good time while doing it. Relaxed, fun and unpretentious, he was a great owner, decent sailor and that rare combination of grace, spirit and perspective."

In 1971, Chandler married Charlotte Nilsson, and in 1975 they moved to San Diego County after his purchase of radio station KARL-FM in Carlsbad. Chandler established Tri-Cities Broadcasting and changed the station's name, first to KKOS, then to KUPR. He later added KCEO-AM, which was among the first stations in the country to broadcast conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's syndicated radio show.

Chandler sold the stations in 1997. According to his family, he devoted himself to personal and family investments, real estate development in the San Diego area, and his hobby of buying and restoring hot rods.

Chandler also served as president and chief executive of Chandler Ranch Co., which was described as one of the largest avocado growers in California.

Survivors include his wife, Charlotte; a daughter, Kristina; and two brothers, Bruce and Stephen.

Services will be private.

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