Classic car

The former Toys"R" Us building on Johnson Drive is now filled with classic cars. (Photo by Alex Wilson)

Managers of a Ventura classic car dealership did a great job assembling a huge showroom full of beautiful automobiles that collectors covet. But city officials said the used car dealers neglected to provide a safe building for customers to make their automotive dreams come true, and red-tagged the showroom as unsafe for the public to occupy.

Hopefully everything is now getting back on track for Crown Classics and Hot Rods, operated by the owners of nearby Crown Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, city officials said.

The new classic car showroom was created earlier this year inside a large structure originally built for Toys “R” Us at 2975 Johnson Drive. The building was vacant for several years after the toy store closed and was becoming a highly visible nuisance at the city’s eastern gateway, attracting vandals and homeless encampments.

While renovations to the outside of the building were a big aesthetic improvement, city leaders said the operators failed to secure building permits needed for interior work and, in fact, allowed members of the public inside for a grand opening on July 30 even though the building had been red-tagged two days earlier.

Ventura Building Inspection Supervisor Tim Fiske told the Ventura County Reporter that while the improvements to the exterior were obvious to anyone driving by on Johnson Drive or the 101 Freeway, prior to an inspection, he was not initially aware of the extent of the work inside the building.

“I’d seen the exterior getting painted and then doing some work for landscaping and things like that. My assumption was especially, you know, given Crown Dodge’s involvement here in the city, that they were trying to proceed forward with the permit process,” he said.

It was only after hearing about the planned grand opening that Fiske inspected the building two days prior to the event. He was initially told only simple renovations like painting had been done.

“It became pretty clear, pretty quick, that they had changed the structure and done some other modifications that would have required permits,” said Fiske.

That’s when the city’s fire inspector got involved and made a startling discovery.

“They had painted over all the fire sprinkler heads, rendering them essentially inoperable,” Fiske explained. “And they also did not have their fire alarm system hooked up. So once we found out that that had taken place, we red-tagged the building.”

The car dealers were told they could still have a grand opening ceremony as long as customers stayed outside the building, Fiske said. City officials said they later learned from social media that people were allowed inside for the grand opening even though it had been forbidden.

“Which we were not very happy about,” Fiske said. “It was absolutely not OK.”

Because the business opened without the proper permit the city fees will be doubled moving forward, officials said.

Crown Classics and Hot Rods Manager Nick Mutton told the Ventura County Reporter that the company recently hired a consultant to help make sure the permits are properly secured.

“We’re negotiating with the city to negotiate any hurdles. Until that’s granted we will remain closed for the foreseeable future,” Mutton said. “We would like a speedy resolution.”

Mutton was not sure exactly when they would be reopening their doors but hopes it’s as soon as possible.

“Everybody’s moving forward and everybody’s on the same page,” he said. “We want to be a great part of the classic car community.”