Thousands of drivers unknowingly pass this bust of the “Father of the Nation” to Chile, Peru, and Argentina every day in West Los Angeles, on Burton Way and San Vicente, near Beverly Hills. It remains hidden and forgotten among a cluster of small traffic islands behind the Beverly Center.
The statue honors José Francisco de San Martín, an Argentinian-born general and the main leader of the southern part of South America’s battle to gain independence from Spanish rule. On the reverse, a huge and bare map of South America highlights Chile, Peru, and Argentina.
It’s a monument to a man who, in the early part of the 19th century, crossed the Andes with his army and wrestled Chile from the hands of Royalist rule. Then, after winning control of part of the Peruvian capital Lima from the Spanish, he was appointed Protector of Peru and saw that country soon gain its independence, too.
Mystery surrounds José de San Martín’s sudden decision in 1824 to quit the army, eschew any political role, and leave South America, but his adventurous life continued to be as globe-trotting as ever after his retirement. He offered his services in other conflicts long after he had aged and his health had begun to fail.
He’s been celebrated with road names and statues in France, Colombia, the Philippines, and Peru, as well as all over Argentina, where he is a national hero. There are also statues of him in New York City and Washington, D.C. too, though records barely mention this bust in Los Angeles.
The oft-overlooked bust was designed by Fernando Di Zitti and unveiled in 2001. It was the product of a collaboration between the Argentine Consulate in Los Angeles, the San Martin Society of the San Fernando Valley, and the City of Los Angeles. It’s framed by inscribed red bricks of probable donors; the plaque notes the Consulate General of Argentina in Los Angeles and the San Martin Society of the San Fernando Valley. A statue of Jesus looks on sympathetically from a Catholic church nearby. In a city obsessed with silver screen caped crusaders, it’s worth making the trip to pay homage to a real hero.
Every August 17th, the anniversary of his death in 1850, there is a gathering of admirers, members of the Consulates of the countries mentioned, and flowers are placed in a Ceremony at the site, in remembrance and gratitude for his service. Although the location makes it a target for vandalism, through the effort of volunteers, every year is cleaned and maintained with dignity.
Know Before You Go
Getting to this small traffic island at Burton Way and N. Le Doux Road takes patience. Watch out for the traffic coming from all directions!