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Code woes of Caddy Corner

It may be the end of the road for the Hollywood landmark that has run afoul of the city.

June 04, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer
  • Frank Corrente stands at his Cadillac Corner vintage car lot in Hollywood,. Los Angeles building inspectors say he opened his 21-year-old store without the proper permits. They have ordered him to retroactively file the paperwork and bring the lot up to current standards.
Frank Corrente stands at his Cadillac Corner vintage car lot in Hollywood,.… (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)

It may be fin for Hollywood's house of fins.

After 21 years of waxing chrome bumpers and wreathed crests and washing white sidewalls and wrap-around windshields at 7614 Sunset Blvd., Frank Corrente might have to haul his fleet of vintage V-8s out of town.

Los Angeles building inspectors say Corrente opened his Cadillac Corner car lot in 1987 without the proper permits. They have ordered him to file the paperwork and bring the lot up to current standards or else padlock its gate permanently.

That means replacing his sales office, reducing his 45-car inventory, and removing the fluttering flags and circus-style tent that sometimes shades shark-finned classics such as the '59 El Dorado convertible and the boat-sized '60 Coupe de Ville hardtop.

Corrente says that after more than two decades of taking his car lot taxes and business license fees, authorities ought to cut him some slack.

He said he cannot afford to lose the vintage car display space that the ordered modifications would require and he cannot afford to pay for a new office structure.

"Running people out of business doesn't help L.A.," he said.

Building and Safety officials have summoned Corrente to a Thursday hearing to determine if a criminal complaint will be filed against him.

The department's Code Enforcement Bureau violation notice cited issues with the car lot itself, its sales office and the 60-foot-long tent. It threatened him with a $200 fine for each vintage Cadillac sold from the unapproved lot.

A department spokesman said the city has an ongoing inspection program designed to bring automotive sales lots into compliance with city rules. He said Corrente's lot may have been reported by a tipster as failing to comply with zoning requirements or it may have been randomly chosen for inspection.

But the city does not reveal tipsters' names, said Robert Steinbach. And it is unlikely that Cadillac Corner pre-dates the current city zoning code, which has existed since the 1960s, Steinbach said.

Corrente can appeal any compliance order to the city Board of Building and Safety Commissioners, although it is unlikely that the handicapped-access requirement would be waived since it is a state law, Steinbach said.

Cadillac Corner is stuffed with classic Cadillacs, requiring Corrente and his customers to park on Sunset Boulevard or in a next-door copy shop's parking lot.

His sales office is a small, trailer-mounted modular building reached by metal steps.

As part of the city-ordered upgrade, Corrente also must install a sewer line connection. Currently, the lot's toilet is hooked up to a neighboring auto body shop's line.

Corrente said his landlord, who also owns the body shop building, is willing only to give a three-year extension to his $6,000-a-month lease, which is set to increase by $1,400. That makes remodeling and updating the car lot unfeasible, he said.

"It would cost up to 50 grand. I can't amortize that in three years," he said.

"If you forgive me for saying it, but I'm famous all over the world. Tour buses stop out front. This is Hollywood. I don't detract from it, I add to it."

Corrente, who lives above the Sunset Strip and drives a 1947 Cadillac convertible, speaks with an East Coast Italian accent as he recounts the celebrities who have visited Cadillac Corner over the years.

His tiny trailer office is lined with photos of him with such figures as Elizabeth Taylor, James Brown, Kathy Lee Gifford and Pamela Anderson.

His lot and its vintage V-8s are a frequent backdrop for photo shoots.

"People come from all over the world to take pictures. I don't have a junkyard here," he said.

Model Yesica Toscanini was pictured on the hoods of 1955 and 1970 El Dorado convertibles and with half a dozen other of Corrente's cars for Sports Illustrated's 2006 swimsuit edition. Corrente himself is in one picture.

The city's requirement that he give up used-car display space in the crowded lot is especially galling, Corrente said.

"I'd have to give them six parking spaces, plus space to turn around. I'd have to give up space along the front for a landscaped setback from Sunset," he said. "They want a wheelchair ramp. In 21 years I've never had a handicapped person come in here."

Last month he wrote Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asking for help.

"I'm not saying I have a right not to obey the law. But I'm not hurting anyone," Corrente said. "The mayor could have thrown me a pass, don't you think?"

If the city doesn't bend, Corrente said, he is prepared to corral his Cadillacs and head for wider spaces -- perhaps in Las Vegas.

That would mean Hollywood's fanciful family of fins is finished.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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