The Arcade at the Bethesda Terrace: a Playground for the Imagination


The staircase leading to the underground arcade from the Mall

In case you aren’t familiar with the definition of an arcade, it’s a succession of arches, each counter-thrusting the next and supported by columns or piers. The beauty of its design is that it creates a quasi-interior space that can both protect from the elements while, at the same time, lend a sense of being outdoors.

In the case of the underground arcade at the Bethesda Terrace, its creators, Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, took it one step further: not only did they design it to offer an intimate view of the fountain and the Ramble beyond, but they made it a world unto itself.

Its highlight is the magnificent Minton tile ceiling designed by Mould, who also conceived the decorative carvings throughout the rest of the terrace.


A view of both the Minton tiles on the ceiling and the trompe l’oeil paintings on the walls

Installed in 1869, there are more than 15,000 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.

As if this wasn’t enough of a delight for the eye, the niches that flank the walls of the arcade are covered with trompe l’oeil paintings.


…and finally, a view of the Angel of the Waters and the Bethesda Fountain at the opposite end of the arcade. What an incredible space!

Being a writer of fantasy novels, the illusions created for these niches immediately set my imagination on fire, and I imagined a hidden staircase buried in one of their paintings, which Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, discovers on his way home from school.




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