Want to experience some neat Korean culture in California?
There’s a bona fide, 12-foot tall Korean bell complete with pavilion (and a neat twist) right here in LA County.
Here’s everything you need to know about it!
Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Pedro Angels Gate Park adjacent to the Port of Long Beach, stands a monumental gift from South Korea commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial.
Venture inside the pavilion, and you’ll notice a depiction of the Statue of Liberty harmoniously side-by-side with a Korean goddess.
How big is the bell?
Weighing 17 tons and towering 12 feet, the Korean Friendship Bell is a replica of the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok (the original was built in 771 for Bongdeok Temple and is now located at the National Museum of Gyeongju), adorned with symbolic imagery celebrating the enduring bond between the U.S. and Korea.
Who made the bell?
The intricate craftsmanship of the bell involved nine bell masters and nearly 20,000 workers dedicating almost a year to its creation. While forged in Korea, the pavilion took shape in the former Fort MacArthur barracks at Angels Gate Park. However, the process was not without challenges; the first attempt resulted in a cracked bell, requiring a second successful endeavor completed in June 1976.
When was it donated?
Donated in 1976 by the Republic of Korea to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial, honor Korean War veterans, and strengthen the friendship between the two nations.
LA’s Korean American community was instrumental in bringing the bell to Los Angeles, a fact currently under exploration by the Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee.
Why is it located in Angels Gate Park?
There were many sites considered at first, but Angels Gate Park, once part of Fort MacArthur, proved to be the ideal location. Positioned on a knoll overlooking the sea gate where U.S. troops embarked into the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War, the site offers unparalleled views of the Los Angeles harbor and beyond.
The park, a former U.S. Army base from 1914 to 1974, offered not only a picturesque view but also a meaningful connection for Korean government officials due to its historical ties. The fort is named after Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur whose son, Douglas MacArthur, would later command American forces in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War.
What do the symbols mean?
Encircling the bell are depictions in relief of four pairs of goddesses, each pair symbolizing the spirits of freedom, independence, peace, and prosperity in both the United States and South Korea. The embodiment of America is easily recognizable, taking the form of the Statue of Liberty, standing alongside the goddess representing South Korea, who is adorned in traditional Korean woman’s attire.
Both figures are shown descending from the sky on clouds under a blazing sun. Additionally, the bell is adorned with reliefs of the Korean national flower, mugunghwa or common hibiscus.
What is the architectural style of the bell?
The remarkable pavilion that houses the bell, referred to as the “Belfry of Friendship,” was constructed in a centuries-old Korean architectural style. It features blue tiled roofing and is covered with the distinctive dancheong aesthetic. The pavilion is supported by 12 beams, each one representing a sign in the Korean zodiac.
How much did it cost?
Resting on a pagoda-like stone structure constructed by craftsmen flown in from Korea at a cost of $569,680, the pavilion is a beautiful monument representing the enduring friendship between America and Korea.
When is the bell rung?
The bell is rung on various occasions, including Independence Day, National Liberation Day of Korea, New Year’s Eve, and the 1st Saturday of every month.
A recent restoration in 2013 removed rust and graffiti, sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Access to both the bell and the pavilion was limited from September to December.
Following this restoration effort, the City of Los Angeles held a public ceremony on January 10, 2014, to rededicate the bell. The Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism played a crucial role in this endeavor by contributing over US$300,000 (equivalent to $371,000 in 2022) to hire bell masters for the restoration.
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