Los Angeles Landmark: The Korean Bell of Friendship
The Korean Bell of Friendship
Written by Lindsey Goodrow
Artwork by Jamie Tablason
Sitting larger-than-life in Angels Gate Park is the Korean Bell of Friendship, a massive monument to the Korean War veterans and troops who allied with the United States during the Vietnam War. The ginormous tribute overlooks the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean near Point Fermin in the San Pedro District of Los Angeles.
Standing twelve feet tall and weighing seventeen tons, this bell, composed of precious metals like copper, tin, gold, and nickel, is larger and heavier than the average African elephant. It is an honorable gift bestowed on the United States by the people of South Korea to mark the bicentennial of the United States’ independence, to honor veterans, and to solidify friendship between the two countries.
On the bell are four pairs of figures representing peace and liberty. An inscription reads:
“May this bell ring and sound forth the hope and resolve of our two nations in their common devotion to enduring prosperity, liberty and peace."
Ringing in History
The Korean Bell of Friendship was gifted to Los Angeles in 1976, 200 years after America gained its independence, making it one big birthday present. It is modeled and patterned after the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, Korea’s largest preserved bell from antiquity which was forged in 771 AD.
Strangely, this ancient artifact is also known as the Emile Bell, the name derived from an ancient legend in which a child was sacrificed in order to give sound to the bell, whose echoes of ‘em-ee-leh’ resemble the Korean word for "mommy”. But that’s that bell. Our bell is less symbolic of child sacrifice, and more symbolic of friendship and honor.
Over the years, the bell fell victim to defacement, vandalism, and general wear and tear. Traditionally, the bell has been rung five times a year: for Korean Liberation Day, U.S. Constitution Day, Korean American Day, the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. But because of the damage, the tradition was stopped for several years.
In 2014, nearly forty years after it arrived on the west coast of the country, the bell’s shiny luster was orange with rust, the pagoda was chipping away, and the people of Los Angeles felt someone needed to step in before irreparable damage was done. Unfortunately, the city lacked the proper skills and funds to fix it. That was, until they found Chai Dong-hey. This master bell maker was contacted and brought in from Korea to restore the beloved bell. Chai Dong-hey’s mentor was Kim Cheol-Oh, one of the original craftsmen who spent months casting the Korean Bell of Friendship. So it seemed only right that his student restored the Bell of Friendship to its original brilliance.
Chai Dong-hey traveled to San Pedro from South Korea and got to work, painstakingly chiseling out rust and graffiti that had encrusted the indentations of the bell. This restoration project was special to him because he fondly remembers his mentor cherishing this bell like his own child.
After several months of hard work, Chai Dong-hey and his team of artisans returned the bell to its former glory. In 2014, the city held a rededication of the Bell of Friendship and after years of no sound, it rang out once again.
“The coasts of Korea and America aren't thousands of miles apart, they are connected as one,” The former Mayor Garcetti said during the ceremony. “The sound of this bell is the sound of freedom—a universal cry for all peoples to be free, but also for the friendship to continue between our two great nations.”
A Bell for the Masses
The Bell of Friendship is now as shiny as it was when it first arrived in San Pedro nearly 50 years ago. Since its restoration project, maintenance and protection of the bell has been more important than ever. Besides ringing on the five holidays listed previously in this article, you can also get the chance to hear its toll every first Saturday of the month, which is when it undergoes maintenance.
If you haven’t gotten the chance to yet, take an opportunity this summer to see this incredible tribute and Los Angeles icon in person. Load up your family in the car and pack a picnic to bring to the stunning Angel’s Gate Park and witness what many Koreans view as their own Statue of Liberty, the Korean Bell of Friendship.