More than 37 years after the Korean Friendship Bell arrived on American soil, officials from Los Angeles and South Korea came together Friday to rededicate the gift and celebrate its restoration.
Officials including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and South Korean Consul General Yeon-sung Shin spoke in front of about 100 people at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro before ringing the bell 14 times -- 13 for each of the original American colonies and one for good luck.
“The coasts of Korea and … America aren’t thousands of miles away, they are connected as one,” Garcetti said. “The sound of this bell is the sound of the freedom -- a universal cry for all peoples to be free, but also for the friendship to continue between our two great nations.”
The 17-ton bronze bell came to the United States as a gift for the country’s 200th birthday in 1976. But over the years it fell into disrepair.
Birds used the belfry as shelter and soiled the inside. The concrete of the once-colorful pagoda became chipped. A vandal covered the inside of the bell with graffiti. And a chunk of the link that attaches the bell to its house once fell off during a bell-ringing ceremony.
The city had neither the money nor the expertise to fix it, so the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism paid more than $300,000 to replace the link and hire Korean bell masters who could bring the bell back to life.
The Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee, a nonprofit group led by Ernest Lee, helped coordinate efforts of the South Korean government, the bell masters and the city. Lee’s group tracked down the South Korean company that cast the bell back in the 1970s to do the restoration.
Shin, the consul general, said he was pleased to hear Los Angeles officials make a “firm commitment” to maintaining the bell moving forward. He called the ceremony “touching” and “beautiful.”
“My office is wide open to taking necessary measures to make sure that the bell is property managed,” he said.
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.
Friday marked the first time in years that the bell was rung.
San Pedro residents such as Peggy Lindquist long enjoyed hearing the bell on New Year’s Eve. When she first arrived in town in the early 1990s, the sound of the bell stuck with her.
“It does something to you. It is so moving, so spiritual,” she told The Times in a previous interview. “I just started crying .... I’m not a waterworks person, but when I hear it, it makes a mess out of me. ”