A cruise along a contiguous Paseo Del Mar was one of the best attributes of living in San Pedro and has left so many memories for each of us. For me personally, the vivid memories transcend my lifetime.
For example, as a kid my parents would take us for Sunday afternoon drives around the hill to stop for ice cream and on our way home would conclude the drive along Paseo. As a young adult, I would back my 4×4 Toyota truck against the rail just above Royal Palms, drop the tail gate to enjoy a pizza, chips and a beverage with my buddies late into the evening while we bantered back and forth on just about any topic with the sound of waves crashing the shoreline. It was also the place where I asked my best friend if I could kiss her for the first time while sitting in her uncle’s old white Dodge pickup truck.
This October, my best friend and I will be celebrating our 20th year of marriage. As parents, we would pack our three boys in the Suburban and enjoy various stops along Paseo. You’ve heard the phrase “staycation,” but a trip along Paseo was our “daycation.” If we entered Paseo from Western Avenue, we’d first stop at the swings and jungle gym adjacent to Fromhold Field and after an hour or so we might head further down Paseo to the park and walk down to the beach.
Our favorite stop, though, is at The Corner Store to get some old school candy and try a different root beer from the last time we were there. Our daycation would end at the Korean Bell to enjoy the beautiful ocean view and fly a kite. If we entered from Gaffey, we might stop at Point Fermin Park or the Korean Bell first and do the rest in reverse order. It is these types of stories that we all share in some way or another and the reason that we must stop nothing short of restoring Paseo Del Mar back to its original state.
Paseo Del Mar is just a small portion of California’s scenic coastline and was one of the best-kept secrets in Los Angeles until November 20, 2011 when 600 feet of the hillside spanning some 120 feet slid into the Pacific Ocean. The landslide made the news and brought to light what we all knew regarding the instability of our local coastline. Our immediate knowledge and experience of this has been the Portuguese Bend landslide. For decades, the land along Portuguese Bend has been sliding into the ocean and for years the road has had to be maintained and repaired. The degradation is so severe that today a clear view of the Portuguese Bend Beach Club can be seen while driving over the sliding roadway when just 10 to 20 years ago it was not. If not done correctly, this could be the future and experience while driving along Paseo Del Mar.
There appears to be three options being considered to repair the Paseo landslide, ranging in cost from $6.7 to $51.3 million dollars. The cheapest solution is a graded sloping of the hill that would require constant maintenance throughout the year and for decades to come. In other words, this would be the Portuguese Landslide model for Paseo Del Mar. The most expensive option, which I support, is to shore up the hillside and build a bridge to reconnect Paseo Del Mar. This option would ensure a safe and accessible roadway for generations to come.
In today’s economy, it’s easy to state that the bridge option is too expensive to restore the roadway back to its original state and entice us to select the cheapest route. As the last palm tree stands proud on the remaining bluff of Paseo, it’s a symbolic gesture that we too must do the same and work diligently to reconnect and restore Paseo Del Mar to its original glory.
Just as Paseo has connected us for generations, we must connect it for future generations to come. We owe it to ourselves to restore this historic scenic roadway that in many ways defines who we are as San Pedrans. spt
Although the Korean Friendship Bell’s home has always been on the bluff in Angel’s Gate Park, the very first time it was rung was almost 6,000 miles away in Seoul, Korea. United States and Korean officials ceremoniously rang the bell before it made its voyage across the Pacific on the Fourth of July, 1976.
The creation and erection of the bell was unlike any monument in the US. The bell was given by the Republic of Korea on the bicentennial celebration of American independence. In creating this bell, they tapped a lost art. When the 17-ton bell was cast, it had been over a thousand years since a bell of that size had been cast in Korea. The bell was modeled after the Bell of King Seongdeok, which was cast in 771 AD.
When the bell arrived in the Port of Los Angeles, it took two weeks to unload 28 cargo containers of materials. Korean stonemasons and carpenters worked 14-hour days to construct the belfry, platform and steps.
Finally, in October of 1976, four months after its first ring, the bell was officially dedicated, and struck on American soil.
Now, almost four decades have passed with little or no maintenance to keep the bell in good condition. Bird excrement is caked onto the belfry, there is obvious deterioration of the protecting layer on the bell and deviants have even marked the inside of it with graffiti. For nearly a year, the bell could not be rung because the link needed repair. The link is the wooden structure holding the bell to the belfry, which had fully broken causing the bell to twist.
The bell was in obvious need of a protector. That’s where Ernest Lee and the Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee come in.
The committee of 33 formed in 2006 with hopes of getting the bell back to its former glory.
“The bell called out to us,” says Lee. “ When you see the bell, you feel heartbroken with the shape that it’s in, and still awestruck with its beauty. Rather than just aching about it, we thought, let’s do something about it and have a long term plan.”
While there are organizations that are designated to take care of city or federal landmarks, Lee says they don’t have the trained personnel to do it. Bell making is a particular craft, so the committee did their research.
“We found the company that originally worked on the bell,” says Lee. “All but one of the masters had passed away. We spoke with the surviving member of the group who, in 2011, sent his protégé here to give us an estimate to refurbish the bell.”
The budget based on his estimate: about $360,000.
Lee explains that the reason for the high price tag is that all of the key time frames for maintenance were missed.
“The salt air and strong winds of the area obviously don’t help,” he says. He stresses the need for caution with restoration. “First we want to do no harm. We have to work in careful and steady steps.”
Indeed, if the restoration is done hastily using craftsmen who are unfamiliar with the art of bellfounding, they may do irreversible damage. Besides it being an ancient craft, the bell is also covered with intricate artwork and an inscription engraved in relief on the bell. The bell is made of copper and tin, with gold, nickel, lead and phosphorous added for tone quality.
“The bell was designed to be an instrument,” says Lee. “It has a narrow tube inside and the bowl at the bottom for acoustic resonance.”
Korean craftsmen designed the belfry. Everything about the pagoda-like structure that houses the bell was done with purpose and symbolism. Creating the bell itself was not something that was done easily in Korea. Casting a bell that large is uncommon, and in the first attempt it was broken. The total cost for the bell and structure was over a million dollars, paid for by the Korean government.
With all of the painstaking attention to detail that was administered in its creation, it’s no wonder that there is a laundry list of repairs that the landmark must undergo to regain its full brilliance.
“We need to carefully sandblast the outer bell and fill holes,” says Lee. “There is bird-proofing that needs to be done, painting and the wooden striker needs to be replaced.” They already fixed the link in 2011, just in time for its 35th anniversary.
The road to getting the rest of these restorations will not be an easy one. The group of volunteers has worked tirelessly to get donations. One fundraising campaign was inspired by Lee’s friend and mentor, San Pedro icon, John Olguin.
“He used to say, ‘I’d rather get a dollar from a thousand people then have one person write a check for a thousand dollars,’” says Lee. “We fundraised all over San Pedro and Los Angeles, asking that people give a dollar donation for the bell.”
In following Olguin’s saying, they hope that with individuals reaching into their own pocketbooks, they will feel personally invested and connected to the cause.
The committee has about $280,000 for restoration. $5,000 came from residents in San Pedro and Koreatown and $275,000 has been allocated by the South Korean government. Although grateful for the large influx from the South Koreans, Lee believes that it’s time for the American government to take the reigns.
“We’re hoping that the city council will assist in matching what the South Korean government has donated,” says Lee. “It’s time to say it’s ours, we’ll take care of this magnificent gift.”
The committee is planning a fundraising golf tournament this spring to raise more cash. With the bell being such an iconic San Pedro landmark, Lee believes community members will step up.
“The meaning comes from the memory that attaches to it,” says Lee. Many San Pedrans find that meaning in the memories of family picnics on the great expanse of grass in front of the bell, flying kites, or even one of the many weddings that take place at the bell’s steps.
For Lee, the bell symbolizes an important friendship between two countries.
“If it were not for the United States involvement with Korean independence, I may not be here today,” says Lee. Lee’s parents emigrated from South Korea, which benefitted from the U.S. involvement in the 1950 Korean War. The U.S. defended South Korea against North Korean invasion, splitting the two countries at the 38th parallel or Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
According to the Department of Defense, the total American military casualties resulting from the Korean War were over 50,000. Since the Korean War ended in 1953, South Koreans have fought alongside American military in both Vietnam and Afghanistan.
The bell’s symbolism holds a significance that’s not lost on the committee.
“I feel as the other committee members do,” says Lee. “Honored and privileged to have this opportunity. We’re also painfully aware of the grave responsibility.”
They hope to start restoration as early as May, but funds will dictate their timeline. Their wishlist for the future includes the lower parking lot connecting to the bell and more wheelchair accessible areas. “I know there are Korean War veterans who are disabled and would like to get around up here.”
Most of all, Lee hopes to restore the bell so that future generations can see it as it was when it first traveled nearly 6,000 miles across the Pacific to the bluff at Angel’s Gate Park. spt
For more info, visit www.kfbpc.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.