Location: 72nd Street, mid-Park
Artist/Designer: Jacob Wrey Mould and Calvert Vaux
Materials: Encaustic tiles, cast iron
Funding: Originally, the City of New York
The two-tiered Terrace is the architectural heart of Central Park, spanning both sides of the 72nd Street Cross Drive (here called Olmsted and Vaux Way). Directly under the street, on the Lower Terrace, is the Arcade. As with many other architectural features in the Park, Calvert Vaux designed the structure with his assistant architect Jacob Wrey Mould, who did the ornamentation. For the Arcade, Mould used encaustic tiles to decorate the floor and ceiling. The floor tiles became badly scuffed and were replaced after about 20 years with more durable masonry tiles.
Encaustic tiles use colored clay instead of a surface glaze. The method is an old one, dating back to the 12th century. Although encaustic tiles were common for the floors or walls of important buildings, use of such tiles in a ceiling is unique to the Arcade. The Minton tile company, an English firm, made the tiles from Mould’s designs. Each of the 49 panels contain 324 tiles, for a total of 15,876 tiles in ornate, multi-colored patterns. Each panel weighs about 2,000 pounds and is suspended from the ceiling.
The ceiling panels deteriorated over time due to water and salt seeping from the roadway above. After formation of the Central Park Conservancy, the panels were removed and put into storage until funds for their restoration could be raised. About 20 years later, the work began. The roadway was reconstructed to prevent seepage. Conservancy artisans and interns restored about 14,000 of the original tiles by hand. The remaining tiles, either missing or too badly damaged to be restored, were replaced. The panels, along with cast iron frames, were reinstalled in 2007. Once again, the Arcade became a jewel box, a grand reception hall with a magnificent view of Bethesda Fountain, the Lake, and the Ramble beyond.
Minton Tile Ceiling
(Bethesda Terrace Arcade)
Click on the photo to enlarge