What Lies Underneath: The Bethesda Terrace

Too often we’ve seen this fountain area known as the Bethesda Terrace of Central Park in countless movies, TV shows, programs, etc. You’ve probably been there, and didn’t even notice to walk under the bridge to witness what lies beneath.

bethesda terrace
Photo by: centralparknyc.org

Bethesda Terrace is considered the heart of Central Park. In their original plan, Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux envisioned a sweeping Promenade (the Mall) that led to a grand terrace overlooking the Lake. The magnificent carvings represent the four seasons and, on the side facing the Mall, the times of day.

Today, Central Park Conservancy employs a sculptor to care for the sandstone carvings and sculpture and a zone gardener and their crew to take care of the landscapes. In the summer, aquatic plantings such as water lilies and lotus are placed in the fountain, reviving a 19th century tradition. ~centralparknyc.org

Location: Mid-Park at 72nd Street

Central Park
Bethesda Fountain on a typical day

Photo by: Destination Photos by SNP

But what lies underneath this subterranean arcade?

Central Park

Photo by: Destination Photos by SNP

Behold…The Minton Tile Ceiling

Photos by: Destination Photos by SNP

minton tiles
Photo by: centralparknyc.org

Bethesda Terrace Arcade was created in the 1860s as a part of the Park’s main architectural feature. A grand staircase connects the Mall to the subterranean arcade.

It was conceived to be an ornate interior that would act as a distinct counterpart to the open terrace and Lake. The highlight of the arcade is the magnificent Minton Tile ceiling designed by British-born architect and designer, Jacob Wrey Mould, who also conceived of the decorative carvings throughout the Terrace.

Installed in 1869, there are more than 15,000 colorful, patterned encaustic tiles, made by England’s famed Minton Tile Company. Encaustic tiles, originally created to cover floors, are made of individual colored clays pressed and fired into the tile to form the design. Bethesda arcade is the only place in the world where these Minton tiles are used for a ceiling. The niches that flank the walls of the arcade are covered with trompe l’oeil paintings that resemble the colored stone inlay design that was never completed. Over the decades, the 50-ton ceiling deteriorated. In the 1980s, the tiles were placed in storage. Thanks to charitable donation, Central Park Conservancy was finally able to restore the ceiling and the arcade in 2000. ~centralparknyc.org



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