In the previous post, we visited a local historical site (“local” signifying southern Los Angeles, near the harbor): the Point Fermin lighthouse. Immediately inland, 500 yards in a straight line north of the lighthouse and a few hundred feet higher is a more recent structure that houses another means of emitting a signal, not by light, but sound. It sits on a high promontory overlooking Point Fermin and the lighthouse: the Korean Bell of Friendship.
Unlike the lighthouse’s long-extinguished beam, this structure’s bell still resonates with its sonorous, deep tone five times each year. It stands in a park on its hill with remarkable views east and west along the coast and southward across 22 miles of ocean to Santa Catalina Island.
The bell and its traditionally styled belfry were a gift from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States in 1976. The bell is massive: 12 feet tall, 8 inches thick, weighing 17 tons. The bell is stationary and is rung not with a clapper inside the bell, but by being struck with a wooden log suspended beside it (click on photos to enlarge).
While the bell is interesting for its size and craftsmanship, the belfry is the real show. It is built in a traditional Korean style and decorated with colorful painting highlighted with gold leaf, a style called dancheong.
The vivid decorations have just recently been restored in a painstaking, months-long effort by Korean artisans (dancheongjang), and they look wonderful, even on the overcast day I made these photos.
There are some ironies at work here, but they may strike precisely the right tone (pardon me) regarding any two countries proclaiming a friendship forged in war. The bell sits in the Korean-American Friendship Park, on land that was originally part of the extensive Fort MacArthur, a portion of which is still an active military base (U.S. Air Force). The structure literally sits on top of coastal defense bunkers from an earlier era, and is immediately adjacent to some impressive gun battery emplacements I wrote about HERE (in the 4th photo in that article you can see the Friendship Bell in the distance, beyond the concrete bunkers).
Are there deep psychological reasons I wrote first about those grim reminders of war rather than a beautiful monument to international friendship a few hundred yards away? Now, beware, because I’ve set down my soap box and I’m stepping up on it. Wherever one travels across this planet of ours, one encounters memorials of war. I’ve seen them in cities and towns; on mountains, seashores, forests and in desolate prairies: Shiloh, Antietam, Bosworth Field, Wounded Knee, Shanghai, Rome, Paris, Berlin, London, Coventry. Hundreds of thousands of statues, columns, obelisks and cenotaphs. Our world is paved with cemeteries full of white stones row on row all over the globe. Row on row. One quiet summer afternoon The Counselor and I walked around a tiny Italian village well off the tourist trail. The single street was lined with old stone houses from whose open windows drifted the sounds of casual chatter around lunch tables. Perhaps a hundred people live there, but outside the small chapel we read the roll of no fewer than fifty young men of that parish dead in the “Great War” of 1914-1918. From the days of Alexander and Caesar to those of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, our earth is paved with monuments to war. They’re interesting to visit, because they have cannons and fortifications and armaments and the pathos of the tragic dead. How many shrines to friendship and peace are there? Far fewer. Would there were more.
In this bell, at least, art and architecture, craftsmanship and artistry aspire to express something which resonates within us all, the world ’round.
This spot is distant from the typical Los Angeles tourist itinerary, but if your route brings you anywhere near the Port of Los Angeles — perhaps to see the Battleship Iowa or to take a whale-watching cruise — it’s worth the short drive to see some of these local wonders and contemplate a message of peace and understanding, under western skies.
Have you seen a monument to peace or friendship that resonates with you? We’d love to have a comment.
© Brad Nixon 2014, 2017