Bethesda Terrace

At the heart of Central Park is Bethesda Terrace, the Park’s singular formal feature.

Overlooking the Lake and the Loeb Boathouse, Bethesda Terrace stands at the end of the long, tree-lined promenade known as the Mall. Grand staircases descend into the subterranean Arcade, which offers a welcome respite from rain and heat, with a view of the spectacular Minton tile ceiling.

In addition to the landmark Bethesda Fountain at its center, Bethesda Terrace offers a stunning vista across the Lake to the edge of the Ramble. Rowboats launch from the Loeb Boathouse on an opposite bank. The view has barely strayed from Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan for the Park in the 1850s. They described Bethesda Terrace as an “open air hall of reception,” a structure subordinate to the landscape: "Nature first, second, and third—architecture after a while."

Intricate carvings on the Terrace’s ramps, balustrades, and piers center on themes of nature, art, science, and love; they are true works of public art. But some of the Terrace’s most stunning craftsmanship remains relatively hidden from plain view, tucked away in the Arcade. Follow the steps leading underneath the Terrace, where you’ll find the intricate Minton tile ceiling. Created in the 1860s, it features 49 panels and nearly 16,000 elaborately patterned encaustic tiles, handmade by England’s renowned Minton and Company.

The Arcade has the only ceiling in the world featuring Minton tiles. Over the decades, its extraordinary 50-ton weight led to deterioration. In 1983, soon after it was founded, the Conservancy removed the tiles and stored them until it raised the $7 million required to restore this architectural treasure. The challenging restoration—cleaning and repairing some 14,000 tiles by hand—was completed in 2007. (The remaining tiles were beyond repair, and were replaced by Maw and Company, Minton's successor.)

The Conservancy's most complex architectural restoration project to date may be its most visually stunning—particularly when the tiles catch the daylight, transforming the Arcade into a luminous kaleidoscope.