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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Missing Koreatown sculptures found in city storage amid vandalism and neglect

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The city government’s responsibility for maintaining the symbols and signs that mark LA Koreatown has been called into question as they have been left vandalized. Some sculptures were reportedly removed without the knowledge of the Korean-American community and were recently found in a warehouse after remaining unaccounted for.

According to James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles, two sculptures have been removed by the city of Los Angeles: the sphere-shaped ‘Koreatown’ sculpture on Olympic Boulevard (near Kenmore Avenue) and a small ‘tower’ sculpture (near Hobart Boulevard).

The sculptures, inscribed with the words “Koreatown” and “Welcome,” along with a taegeuk symbol, were considered symbols of the Korean-American community.

“The sculptures had been vandalized by car accidents, graffiti, and other damage over the years since the pandemic. We received a report earlier this year that sculptures were missing,” said James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles. “At first, we didn’t know where they were, but after contacting Councilmember Heather Hutt’s office and others, we learned that they had been removed by the LA Bureau of Street Services.” The sculptures were installed in 2011 as part of the city’s Olympic Boulevard renovation project.

(Clockwise from top left) The sculpture, installed in 2011, read “Koreatown.” The bottom picture shows the pillar part of the sculpture near Olympic Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. Photos of Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and others have been severely defaced. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]
After learning of the removal, the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA) and the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC) made inquiries to find out the whereabouts of the sculptures. They were informed by the city that the sculptures were in a government warehouse in March.

It wasn’t just the sculptures that were not properly maintained. The signboards with the history of Koreatown were also left in a state of disrepair. The signboards near Olympic Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, which introduce the history of Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and Koreatown, are covered in graffiti, making them difficult to read.

A memorial plaque honoring Alfred Song, the first Asian to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, is also covered in graffiti.

“Korean culture, such as K-pop, is recognized worldwide, but LA Koreatown is the opposite,” said Christine Cho, 33, a resident of Koreatown. “Nowadays, there are many people of different ethnicities who come here because of the hallyu wave, and I hope the city of LA recognizes the importance of Koreatown and does a better job of maintaining the sculptures.”

KAFLA, KYCC, and others are currently trying to convince the city to reinstall the sculptures. The problem is that reinstalling sculptures once removed is not easy due to the city’s procedures, as it requires the reallocation of funds.

“Certain monuments or sculptures, such as Da Wool Jung, are managed by Korean-American organizations, but the sculptures in Koreatown are under the control of the city of Los Angeles,” said Steve Kang, director of external affairs at KYCC. “It requires a significant amount of money to reinstall and manage the sculptures, and I understand that the Department of Transportation is opposed to reinstalling them because there are frequent car accidents where they were located.”

BY YEOL JANG, JUNHAN PARK    [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]