The Pearly Gates
The name for the Pearly Gates Playground is derived from Christian tradition as the entranceway through which souls travel to reach their god after death. The gates of heaven are said to be guarded by Saint Peter, one of the founders of the Christian Church. The playground is named the Pearly Gates, because of its location on St. Peter’s Avenue.
Nearly all of the information known about Saint Peter’s life is recorded in the Christian Bible’s New Testament. Born Simeon of Bethsaida, it is said he lived with his family in a small town off Lake Genesareth at the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, where he married and raised a family. Entering into a fishing partnership with his brother, Andrew, and their friends, James and John, the fishermen eventually befriended and became disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gave Simeon the name Peter and, with the words “upon this rock I will build my church,” he placed upon Peter the responsibility of leading the apostles after Jesus’ death. Following Jesus’ death, Peter traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean region. Eventually settling in Rome, he was executed by the Romans some time between 58 and 64 C.E. The Roman Catholic Church regards Peter as their first Pope. Later Christian tradition attributed the duty of greeting the souls of the faithful at the Gates of Heaven to Saint Peter.
St. Peter’s Avenue in the Bronx was known as Union Avenue until the late 1800s, when it was renamed for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The Pearly Gates playground, located on Tratman Street and St. Peter’s Avenue, looks far different today than it was originally designed. First planned to include a wading pool, slides and see-saws, the playground opened in 1952 under the joint operation of Parks and the Board of Education. Presently the playground contains colorful play equipment, spray showers, swings, camel and bear animal art, handball and basketball courts, and a red brick comfort station. The playground fence is surrounded by pin oaks (quercus palustris).
The park was originally called the Westchester Playground until 1998, when Parks Commissioner Henry Stern renamed the site The Pearly Gates. In 1998 City Council Member Madeline Provenzano allocated $94,000 in funds to improve on the playground.