As a celebration of America’s Bicentennial, the people of South Korea gave us a Friendship Bell. It was placed in San Pedro, and became…what some local Korean-Americans see as “West Coast Statue of Liberty”.

So, of course, the city of Los Angeles go to rot.

Now it’s still there, but it’s been besieged by both rust and graffiti. T he City, it turns out, lacked means the skills to repair the bell. Well, now the City has gotten hold of the means, and has had to import some skills from South Korea:

 

The bell may not be well known in Los Angeles, but some Koreans consider it a West Coast Statue of Liberty — a symbol of the strong ties between the U.S. and Korea.

 

Then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee wanted the gift to be something special; his government spent more than $1 million to cast the bell, formally known as the Bell of Friendship, and build it a proper house.

 

He had it modeled after a famous Korean bell that dated from A.D. 771. Back then, bells were considered technological wonders that had the power to restore peace, tranquillity and healing to those who heard them.

 

A Korean bell doesn’t curve outward, instead dipping almost straight down like a dome to keep the sounds resonating within. A bowl placed underneath reflects sound back into the bell and through a hole ornamented by a dragon, which funnels the bell’s sound out a pipe at the top. The features allow Korean bells to be heard miles and miles away.

 

Four Korean goddesses — holding symbols for peace and victory, the South Korean flag and the national flower — are engraved in relief onto the bell, and each is paired with a goddess resembling the Statue of Liberty. Roses in bloom form a circle around the base.

 

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 in recent years, it has fallen into disrepair. A chunk of the link that attaches the bell to its house fell off during a bell-ringing ceremony in 2010, causing the object to sag and twist inside its pavilion. Bird excrement lined the belfry. The concrete of the once-colorful pagoda was chipped. A vandal covered the inside of the bell with graffiti.

 

The city of Los Angeles had neither the money nor the expertise to fix it, so the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism paid more than $300,000 to replace the link and hire the experts who could bring the bell back to life.

 

The artists say that they are among a handful of metallurgists with the experience necessary to repair a bell of this size. And because Chai’s company cast the bell, his technicians approach the repairs with a sense of duty.
“When this bell was cast, Korea was still among the poorer countries in the world,” Chai, 51, says. “So for them to aspire to make the largest bell ever cast in Korean history … that was a giant project.”

Read more of Matt Stevens’ piece at the L.A. Times: