Sign honoring vets may have to be taken down

Johnny's Saloon owner Johnny Kresimir in front of the bar.
(KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent)

Perched atop Johnny’s Saloon is a rather subtle sign with a simple message, “Thank a veteran for your freedom,” and the National League of POW/MIA Families logo next to it.

That reminder to Huntington Beach residents is being threatened after city code enforcement asked owners of the establishment to produce the proper permits for the sign or remove it.

According to a statement prepared by the city, a notice was left on the establishment’s door Monday after an anonymous complaint about the sign was received the same day.

Councilman Joe Carchio said Wednesday that he was told by City Attorney Jennifer McGrath, the citation was issued by a code enforcement intern.

When the business’ owner, Johnny Kresimir, found out about the notice Monday afternoon, he was concerned and confused. The sign has been in the same place for six years.

Surf City spokeswoman Laurie Frymire said building and electrical permits were never issued for the sign, meaning it was improperly erected.

“As with any structure — especially one that is placed on a rooftop — we want to ensure that the structure is sound and engineered correctly,” Planning Director Scott Hess wrote in a statement. “We have been unable to locate a building and electrical permit for the roof sign, so we need the owner to demonstrate that it has been permitted.”

The city said it wants to give Kresimir a chance to show code enforcement officials that the establishment has the necessary permits.

Surprised by the city’s action, Kresimir took to Facebook. He posted that the city was giving him two days to remove the metal structure or he would be fined nearly $1,000.

Veterans and supporters of the saloon chimed in, posting reasons why the sign should remain. Even Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper voiced his support for the fixture, saying he would defend it if the issue came before the City Council.

Kresimir said he has cooled off a bit since then and spent much of Tuesday afternoon talking with city officials.

“They’ve contacted me and said that they won’t fine us until we’re able to meet and talk about the sign,” Kresimir said.

Johnny’s Saloon opened in Huntington Beach in 2003 after moving from Hemet after Kresimir’s father died.

It was about six years ago that the bar added the sign above its portion of the strip mall. Kresimir explained that the structure that holds the sign had been there well before he bought the bar.

He estimates the metal fixture to be at least 30 years old and says removing it wouldn’t be as simple as undoing a few bolts, explaining that the electrical wiring presents a complication. He added that his building lease doesn’t even allow for anyone to be on the roof.

Kresimir said it saddens him that the city is asking that his sign — which he put up in honor of military veterans he met in Hemet, though it also represents those currently serving — be taken down because of city zoning, but he said he is even more upset that he was given only two days to remove it.

“To me, it’s disrespectful to put the terms on a piece of paper,” he said, explaining that he would have preferred that city officials came to him in person.

The heavily bearded owner said he’s going to continue talking with the city to see if there’s any way to keep the sign where it is. He added that should it be taken down, he would invite veterans from throughout the community to pay their last respects.

“If the sign goes down, it’s not going to hurt our business. It just going to hurt the community,” Kresimir said.