The following story appeared in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press 70th Anniversary issue, published April 21. To view the entire issue, click here.
When you think of how Hollywood has changed over the past 25 years, you should think about Leron Gubler.
“Twenty-three years ago, when I came to Hollywood it was very different than it is today,” Gubler said. “We were kind of down and out. A lot of people had given up on Hollywood. Businesses were moving out right and left.”
Now the neighborhood is seeing record high tourism numbers, and top new-age businesses like Netflix are leasing space 100,000 square feet at a time. And the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, under Gubler, played a pivotal role in turning things around.
Ironically, the man who helped save Hollywood is from “farm country.” Gubler grew up in Porter, Calif., in the Gold Country of Calaveras County. Gubler was the CEO of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce for 12 years before he came to Los Angeles.
When he arrived on Sept. 8, 1992, Hollywood didn’t exemplify the Tinseltown nickname it earned decades before.
Los Angeles had just suffered through the riots and a citywide recession, he explained, and Hollywood saw several buildings destroyed or burned down.
“That on top of everything else, it was a discouraging time,” Gubler said. “Businesses wondered which were going to survive, and some companies were just leaving.”
Development projects were falling through and Hollywood didn’t have the buzz that its name suggests.
“At that time, there was basically nothing happening,” Gubler said.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was almost in worse shape than the neighborhood it serves. After three different CEOs in three years and about the same number of lawsuits, the organization almost went bankrupt.
“The chamber had gone through the most difficult time in its history,” Gubler said.
But he knew something could be done, and he took the job “because it was still Hollywood.” He said with one of the most famous brands in the world, at some point the “down and out” neighborhood would come back.
“My task was to turn it around,” he said. “We did it piecemeal. Step-by-step, we turned it around.”
First, Gubler got the budget in order. He revamped programs the chamber offered, installed new committees and worked closely with volunteers until the chamber had credibility again.
“It was a gradual process to win back peoples’ confidence,” he said.
There isn’t a single instance that started the revitalization, he said, but the Red Line was a catalyst. Two symbols that showed the town was reviving was the opening of the Hollywood and Highland Center and the return of the Academy Awards ceremony after being hosted for decades outside of Hollywood.
“That was really what convinced people that Hollywood could be turned around,” Gubler said.
The chamber played pivotal roles in bringing the film industry back and encouraging companies to break ground in Hollywood for projects such as the ArcLight Hollywood revitalization, Sunset + Vine, Hollywood and Vine developments and the W Hotel.
“Then things mushroomed,” Gubler said.
Since taking the helm, Gubler has also become a voice for social and political issues. He knows not everyone agrees, but he can often be found at a neighborhood council town hall, property owners’ alliance meeting, or a Los Angeles City Council committee hearing, advocating for what’s best for the Hollywood community.
One perk of the job has remained consistent though – the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies. One of Gubler’s mentors was the emcee for the Hollywood Walk of Fame events and the ceremonial mayor of Hollywood, the late Johnny Grant.
“He was in my office once a day. I looked up to Johnny. He was a great example. He loved Hollywood and he was one of the greatest assets this community ever had,” Gubler said.
Gubler has attended more than 600 ceremonies and emceed more than 200 since taking over for Grant. Gubler said a couple of his favorite ceremonies were for Andrea Bocelli and Patrick Stewart. Gubler said George Clooney helped emcee at a Walk of Fame ceremony and leaned over to him and said, “This is a pretty good gig, isn’t it?”
“It’s the best,” Gubler said.
In the next 25 years, Hollywood will be the gateway to the future of Los Angeles.
“It has a very bright future,” he said. “It’s midway between downtown and the valley, and between downtown and the westside. It’s the best to service all those areas. It’s also the backbone of the mass transit system.”
Gubler said the neighborhood will continue to thrive because of the way it was built – it’s compact and walkable.
“Hollywood has become a prototype in California to show that we can have a walkable, livable community.”
He said the influx of millennials and the surge of mobile apps like Uber and Lyft make it possible for the neighborhood to adapt and thrive.
“These things are going to show the way for the future,” he said.
Even without it, Hollywood will always have its famous name.
“We’re Hollywood. It is a landmark in and of itself,” Gubler said.
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