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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Serious deterioration of Korean Friendship Bell amid management conflicts

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The Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro, a symbol of Korean-American friendship, is reportedly in serious disrepair. Furthermore, internal conflicts within the management committee, the Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee (KFBPC), coupled with the Korean government’s reluctance to provide additional support, have placed the pavilion at risk of neglect.

On July 4, an Independence Day bell-ringing ceremony at the Korean Friendship Bell was marred by confusion due to conflicting event times distributed by the LA Department of Recreation and Parks, LA City Councilmember Tim McOsker’s office, and the KFBPC. Schedules listed the ceremony at 11 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. Additionally, the KFBPC was notably absent from the event program, a departure from previous years.

“The LA Department of Recreation and Parks ceased its partnership with the KFBPC last October due to internal issues, leading to the councilmember’s office organizing the event independently this year,” an event official said.


Serious deterioration of the Korean Friendship Bell [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

However, a press release issued on June 26 by the Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Foundation (KFBPF), led by President Sangjun Park and Chairman Young Kim, stated they were preparing for the July 4th ceremony at 10 a.m., coordinating with other agencies.

Critics suggest that the KFBPC might have provided conflicting information in an attempt to appear as co-hosts, leading to the scheduling confusion. Currently, the KFBPC is divided into two factions, each claiming authority and independently contacting the LA Department of Recreation and Parks, causing further confusion.

Sangjun Park, the KFBPC president until recently, has been operating under the name the KFBPF with Young Kim serving as the chairman. In contrast, founding member and Secretary General Kahyun Lee claims that Park unilaterally renamed the committee without consensus from its members and altered internal regulations to remove checks and balances between the president and chairman.

Lee has been responsible for external affairs and liaising with the LA Department of Recreation and Parks.

Established in 2006, the KFBPC now faces disintegration after 18 years, raising alarms about the bell’s future. The Korean Friendship Bell, exposed to harsh sea winds, has deteriorated rapidly over time. Despite receiving a 300 million won ($275,000) restoration grant from the Korean government in 2013, the damage remains severe.

“Cement is falling off the pavilion’s pillars, exposing the rebar structure,” said a nearby resident Kim. “The eaves’ traditional paint is peeling, and the pavilion floor is cracked. Immediate repairs are essential to prevent further deterioration.”

An official from the Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles, also present at the event, said, “The pavilion is clearly in need of repairs and proper maintenance.” The Korean government has previously shown reluctance to fund further restoration efforts.

In light of these internal conflicts and management issues, there are growing concerns about the preservation of the Korean Friendship Bell.

President Park defended the scheduling mishap, stating, “11 a.m. was correct; the 10 a.m. listing was simply a mistake.”

He also explained the use of the name KFBPF as a “Doing Business As (DBA)” for better recognition, arguing, “Calling it a committee makes it seem too small.” Park dismissed concerns about internal procedures, insisting they were conducted with proper approval from the board members and that he does not view the situation negatively.

BY SUAH JANG, YOUNGNAM KIM [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]