How do you enter Central Park? You just walk in. No one charges you anything. No one checks you over. No one asks you any question. Nothing opens or shuts behind you. officially the park closes at 1:00 am, but if you want to go in at 3:30 am (and do you really want to…?), you can walk right into the darkness.
Yet if you look at any detailed map of the park, even those going back to the 1800s, you’ll see the names of a number of gates noted around its edges, but no actual gates. So what was up with that?
Central Park was conceived as an answer to the grand public parks in European capitals like London, Paris, and Vienna. Those parks sported ornate iron gates, which were admired by the high society New Yorkers who supported the park. The gate idea failed (I couldn’t find out whether that was due to budget constraints or because the founders and builders wanted to give the park an open feel) but names were assigned to many of the entrances around the park. In a comment on an article at Ephemeral New York, Manhattan borough historian (which sounds like a great job) Michael Miscione says that the names were chosen by members of the Central Park Commission: H.G. Stebbins, C.H. Russell, and Andrew H. Green, probably in about 1861; gate names past 106th Street must have been added later, as the 106th-110th extension wasn’t added until 1863).
The names of the gates were supposed to reflect the types of people who would use the park, all the everyday New Yorkers. Ephemeral NY quotes an 1864 Harper’s article about the names:
“The first broad generalization will be something like this: Artisan, Artist, Merchant, Scholar. Descending to subdivision of these heads we shall have Cultivator or Agriculturalist, Hunter, Fisherman, Woodman, Minor, Mariner, Warrior, Engineer, Inventor, Explorer.”
Most of those names made the final cut, but no one without a map would have known it–there weren’t any signs in the park marking the names of the entrances. In the 1950s, Robert Moses, added some signs to the gates in the park, with a few others put in place later by the Central Park conservancy, but it wasn’t until December, 1999, that all the gates were officially marked with names carved into the stone walls near their entrances. According to a 1999 New York Times article, the idea came from former Parks commissioner Henry Stern and park administrator Doug Blonsky. The always useful Central Park Conservancy footed the $45,000 bill to have the gate names hand carved by sculptor Shi-Jia Chen, with assistance from a Conservancy employee, Blaine Maley.
Names have been added to the original eighteen, but I believe this is the full, current list with their locations:
East 110th Street Pioneers’ Gate
East 102nd Street Girls’ Gate
West 100th Street Boys’ Gate
East 96th Street Woodman’s Gate
East 90th Street Engineers’ Gate
West 85th Street Mariners’ Gate
East 79th Street Miners’ Gate
West 77th Street Naturalists’ Gate
East 72nd Street Inventors’ Gate
East 64th Street Children’s Gate
East 60th Street Scholars’ Gate
Sixth Avenue Artists’ Gate
Seventh Avenue Artisans’ Gate
Columbus Circle Merchants’ Gate
West 72nd Street Women’s Gate
West 81st Street Hunters’ Gate
West 96th Street Gate of all Saints
West 106th Street Strangers’ Gate
Adam Clayton Powell Blvd Warriors’ Gate
Lenox Avenue Farmers’ Gate
My favorite is Strangers’ Gate, not just because that’s near where I live, but because it sounds so mysterious. It actually was a reference to foreign visitors, those who didn’t fit into the workmanlike categories of everyday New Yorkers evoked by the other names. It was meant to be welcoming, as in “Hello, Strangers!,” but whenever I look at it, I just keep thinking of the phrase “We’re all strangers here,” as indeed we are.