Korean Pavilion, Big Rock Garden Park
One of the central features in Big Rock Garden Park is the Korean pavilion with its five pillars supporting an immense tiled roof. It serves as the Korean War Children’s Memorial honoring our servicemen and women for saving the lives of thousands of Korean children during the war years. In my naivete I thought that the Korean government would help us with the construction of the building.
I wrote to many Korean organizations in the U.S. and Korea seeking architectural drawings of such a pavilion. I could find none. We finally contracted with a local firm, Cascade Joinery, to design and build the structure. The trouble was, the lead architect had grown up in Japan and was familiar with Japanese buildings and the pavilion he designed was, essentially, a Japanese structure, not a Korean one.
Meanwhile Washington State Senator Paull Shin joined me in my effort to honor our servicemen and women as he was known as a Korean War Orphan who was adopted by an American serviceman. We split the field, Paull was going to take care of raising the money to build the structure and I would take care of matters in the park. Well, Paull shortly found out that Koreans did not want anything to do with the project, and his attempts to raise the money to fund the project failed. At that point Paull withdrew from the project and had nothing more to do with it. So my wife and I put up the funds for the structure, over $50,000.
We had the roof tiles shipped over from Korea, pro bono by Hanjin Shipping, but once there we could find no one who knew how to install them so the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial was conducted in a building without a tiled roof. A traditional Korean tile setter was found in Los Angeles but on seeing photos of the structure he declared that it was Japanese and he wanted nothing to do with it. Finally a group of Korean War orphans living in Korea whose lives were saved by the GIs got together the funds and hired a traditional tile setter to come to Bellingham to set the roof tiles. He first set about changing the roof style to a Korean style which needed about 3 tons of clay to modify the slope of the roof. It took him one full week working with a Park Department staff employee to complete the job. We then had a traditional Korean dance group to celebrate the completion of the memorial structure.
One last thing remained to be done and that was the placement of the bronze plaque honoring our servicemen. And, therein, we encountered trouble.
With the building nearing completion in 2003 I sought the city bureaucracy approval for the bronze dedication plaque that was to be affixed to the structure or to a stone nearby. That was when I realized that not everyone shared my zeal for this project. The wording “Korean War Children’s Memorial” was changed to read “Korean Children’s Memorial” and the phrase “American servicemen and women” was changed to read “American service people.” This language was initiated by the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee and approved by the Bellingham City Park and Recreation Advisory Board and the Bellingham Arts Commission. Since I still had to raise the money to pay the outstanding debt on the structure, get the roof installed, and cover and handle many other details I just ignored, for the time being, the results of that request for approval of the dedication plaque.