Press Releases

Friday, March 02, 2007
No. 15

Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace Arcade Reopens:

Central Park Conservancy Restores One of Central Park’s Great Artistic Treasures—the Arcade’s Historic Minton Tile Ceiling

The Bethesda Terrace Arcade, the richly decorated underground component of Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace, reopened today after a $7 million restoration by the Central Park Conservancy. This weekend promises a taste of spring and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Central Park Conservancy President Douglas Blonsky welcome New Yorkers and visitors to once again enjoy the Terrace and Arcade, as well as Bethesda Fountain, Angel of Waters (mid-Park at 72nd Street).

The main focus of the restoration was the preservation and reinstallation of the Arcade’s treasured Minton tile ceiling, the only known example of Minton encaustic ceramic tiles used in a suspended ceiling. The majority of the nearly 16,0000 tiles had been in storage for more than 20 years.

"The Bethesda Terrace and Arcade is both the architectural centerpiece of Central Park, and one of the great works of art of the 19th century," said Commissioner Benepe. "The painstaking reconstruction of the infrastructure and restoration and reassembly of the unique Minton tiles by the Central Park Conservancy is one of the most historic preservation projects of the 21st century. The reopening of the restored Arcade is a glorious day for New Yorkers, visitors, and park lovers the world over."

"Now, after more than 20 years out of the spotlight, the Arcade’s beautiful Minton tile ceiling is resplendent once again for generations of New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy," said Conservancy President and Central Park Administrator Douglas Blonsky. "We are proud to have undertaken a preservation initiative of this magnitude."

In their 1858 plan for Central Park, designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux proposed an architectural "open air hall of reception" for the area that was both incorporated into nature and, at the same time, the architectural centerpiece of the Park. Bethesda Terrace, which was completed in 1869, was one of the first structures built in the park. The Terrace consists of three main areas located on two separate levels: the Upper Terrace flanking the 72nd Street Cross Drive, the Lower Terrace surrounding Bethesda Fountain and abutting the Lake, and the Arcade, which serves as a pedestrian passageway, running beneath the 72nd Street Cross Drive to the Lower Terrace. The Arcade features one central passageway and two side loggias. It is accessed from the northern end of the elm-lined mall by a flight of stairs.

Designed by Vaux and his chief assistant, architect Jacob Wrey Mould, the Arcade’s Minton tile ceiling is made up of 15,876 elaborately patterned encaustic tiles. The tiles were handmade by Minton and Company, a leading 19th century ceramic manufacturer in Stokes-on-Trent, England. Encaustic ceramic tile, developed in the 12th century by Cistercian monks, is made by pressing colored clays into the tile to form the design and differs from the more common method of creating designs with colored surface glazes.

The Arcade’s ceiling is divided into 49 panels, each panel containing 324 tiles. Each panel features repeated stylized floral motifs and geometrical forms in earth tones, cobalt, and forest green. There are two distinct panel designs that differ only in their central medallion—25 panels bear a small central rosette medallion and 24 panels bear a large pinwheel medallion.

The tile panels were removed from the Arcade and put into storage in the early 1980s because their backing plates were severely corroded due to water infiltration. To restore the tiles, the Conservancy employed a team of seven conservation technicians who cleaned and repaired about 14,000 original tiles by hand. Only three panels of new tiles—approximately ten percent of the ceiling—were needed to replace those that were too damaged to repair. These new tiles are being manufactured by hand in England by Maw and Company, Minton’s successor, and will be placed in the east loggia.

To ensure that the tiles will not suffer future water damage, the Conservancy also restored the Arcade’s infrastructure. The first phase of construction addressed the structural framework of the Arcade ceiling. The ceiling’s original support system, 25 wrought-iron girders, was repaired and metalized to prevent future damage. The decorative brick arches were rebuilt and the Arcade’s entire structure was waterproofed to protect the ceiling from future damage. A round cast-iron and bullet-glass skylight, which closely resembles the original skylight, was installed in the ceiling of the Upper Terrace Plaza.

Although the Arcade is now open to the public, the Conservancy continues with the final phase of the restoration. The final work includes the reconstruction, waterproofing, and repaving of the Upper Terrace Plaza and the 72nd Street Cross Drive above the Arcade. The repaving, currently under way, includes distinctive paving of the roadway with individual pavers, replacement of the brick and stone pavers on the Upper Terrace, and a reproduction of the original bluestone curbing.

The $7 million restoration of the Bethesda Terrace Arcade was made possible by generous donations from the Estate of Evelyn M. West, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Merle & Barry Ginsburg, The Getty Foundation, The Starr Foundation, The Octagon Fund in Community Funds, Inc., The Drue Heinz Trust, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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