In 2007, Bethesda Terrace Arcade reopened to the public following an extensive $7 million restoration of the Arcade's Minton Tile ceiling by the Conservancy. First completed in 1869, the Park designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, intended Bethesda Terrace to be the architectural heart of the Park.
The Terrace consists of three main areas located on two separate levels: the Upper Terrace flanking the 72nd Street drive; the Lower Terrace surrounding Bethesda Fountain and abutting the Lake; and the Arcade, running beneath the 72nd Street drive. In addition to providing a passageway for pedestrians under the drive, the Arcade serves as an "open air hall of reception" to shelter visitors from rain, snow, and heat.
Designed by Vaux's chief assistant, Jacob Wrey Mould, the Arcade's ceiling was adorned with elaborately patterned tiles hand-made by England's renowned Minton and Company. The ceiling's 15,876 tiles, arranged in 49 panels of 324 tiles, are encaustic tiles, popular in the Victorian era for their endurance. Encaustic ceramic tiles are created by pressing colored clays into the tile to form the design. They differ from the more common method of creating designs with colored surface glazes. The Arcade is the only known structure in the world where encaustic tiles are used to cover a ceiling. Each panel contains repeated stylized floral motifs and geometric forms in earth tones, cobalt, and forest green.
In 1983, the tile panels were removed and placed in storage because their backing plates were severely corroded due to water infiltration and salt from the drive above. The funding necessary to restore the ceiling was acquired by the Conservancy in 2004. Most of the original tiles were cleaned and repaired by the Conservancy's skilled conservators and artisans. New tiles, manufactured in England to the exact specifications of the originals, replaced the few historic tiles too damaged to be restored. Waterproofing elements were installed and the Arcade's sandstone was desalinized to protect the tiles for generations. Lighting was also added to illuminate the ceiling for the first time, allowing visitors to see the tiles in full detail.
Celebrate the fifth anniversary of the restoration by taking home a keepsake inspired by the Minton Tile ceiling. Visit the Central Park shop for more details. Proceeds from all purchases help the Conservancy to restore, manage and enhance Central Park.