Bolívar’s leadership and military skill led to independence for six modern-day South American countries: Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Bolivia, which was named after him.
The current monument is not the first sculpture of Bolívar installed in Central Park. In 1884, amidst growing economic alliances between the U.S. and South America, the Venezuelan government gifted a monument to Bolívar to the Park. It was placed on Summit Rock, the highest point in the Park near West 83rd Street. Almost immediately the equestrian statue was deemed a poor work of art by the Society of American Architects and the press. In 1897, the Venezuelan government presented a second sculpture of Bolívar, which was also deemed unsuitable. Sometime afterward, the original statue was removed and for approximately 20 years, the pedestal on this highpoint, sometimes called “Bolívar Hill,” stood empty.
Undeterred, the Venezuelan government sponsored a worldwide design competition for a third Bolívar statue in 1916. The commission was awarded to American sculptor Sally James Farnham (1869–1943) and her monument was placed on a new pedestal at Summit Rock in 1921. At the time, Farnham’s Bolívar was the largest bronze monument sculpted by a woman.
In 1945, Sixth Ave was renamed the “Avenue of the Americas” by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He hoped the new name would draw South American businesses and consulates to the area and elevate the status of the avenue. Its entrance to the Park was envisioned as a plaza of South American heroes and the monument to Bolívar was relocated there in 1951. It is one of a trio of equestrian statues honoring Latin America liberators, standing alongside the monuments José de San Martín and José Martí.