Koreatown Ushers in New Gateway

Times Staff Writer

A century after their immigration to America began, Korean Americans on Friday got their first cultural landmark in Los Angeles' Koreatown: a traditional pavilion and garden at Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue.

The 5,000-square-foot Koreatown Pavilion Garden was unveiled during a lengthy celebration attended by city officials, diplomats, community leaders and Koreatown residents.

"Finally, we have a tangible landmark that represents our presence in Los Angeles," said Los Angeles attorney Tong S. Suhr, a Koreatown community leader. "It's lovely to look at."

Called Da Wool Jung, meaning a harmonious gathering place, the monument was built by South Korean craftsmen who were brought here for the job. The $695,000 project took five years of planning, fundraising and work.

For years, Korean Americans have bemoaned the fact that Koreatown, unlike Chinatown and Little Tokyo, did not have a gateway monument that would make the district recognizable to visitors. But over the years, there had been debate over the best place for it, with some Korean Americans pressing for a spot on Wilshire Boulevard or elsewhere.

The chosen site is symbolic because it is across the street from where Koreatown began in the late 1960s with a Korean grocery store, said Ku Hyon Shin, president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, which initiated the project.

"We want to leave Da Wool Jung to the next generation as a reminder that this is where the first generation began our community with their toil and sweat," Shin said.

Made of pine and dyed in traditional shades of green, rust and red, the open-air pavilion is topped by an upswept tiled roof and contains a seating area that will be open to the public. It is surrounded by a rock garden graced with azaleas and willows. Two figures made of volcanic rocks from Cheju Island, guarding against evil spirits, stand by a small wooden bridge connecting the garden to the pavilion.

The organizers raised $695,000 in private and public funds, and the city provided the site, said Rebecca A. Draper of Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, which managed the project. She said her agency has secured an additional $250,000 through the office of U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) to build a gate around the landmark and improve adjacent sidewalks and bus stops. That work will start in the fall, Draper said.

The dedication was held Friday because Congress last month declared it Korean American Day. Attendees were treated to Korean folk music, played by a Samulnori band loud enough to compete with traffic, and Korean rice cakes stuffed with crushed, sweetened beans.

"This monument is a symbol of the cultural, economic and political growth of the Korean American community," said Stephan Haah, chairman of the Korean American Political Empowerment Committee of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles. "Koreatown Pavilion Garden not only enriches the Korean American community but other communities in Los Angeles."

Jung-Shik Kim, a Korean American grandmother who lives a block away, said she couldn't be more pleased. "I will be stopping by at the pavilion from time to time to take a rest," she said.

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