04.17.16: Through the arcade

Visitors stroll through the Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park, New York City.


Technical information

May 11, 2011,
1:31 p.m.

40°46’26” N,
73°58'16" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L (40mm)  


1/80th second


Whenever my wife and I are in New York City and have some free time we’ll often go for a walk in Central Park. And we never fail to see something new.

I guess that isn’t surprising because Central Park covers more than 1.3 square miles. An area that size can hold a trove of interesting features.

Bethesda Terrace Arcade definitely qualifies as an interesting feature. It’s an arched underground walkway in the center of Central Park that runs underneath Bethesda Terrace and connects The Mall to the area surrounding Bethesda Fountain and Central Park Lake.

And it is stunning.

According to various online sites, the arcade was created in the 1860s, with the ceiling designed by British-born architect Jacob Wrey Mould. The ceiling is covered with more than 15,000 encaustic tiles made by England’s Minton Tile Company. Encaustic tiles are ceramic tiles, but the pattern on the surface is not created by the glaze, as is the case with other types of tiles, but by different colors of clay used in the tiles. The pattern is inlaid into the body of the tile, so the design remains visible as the tile is worn down. The tiles are typically used for flooring — in the U.S. Capitol Building, for instance, and in a number of European cathedrals. Bethesda Terrace Arcade is the only place in the world where encaustic tiles are used for a ceiling.

Using the tiles for a ceiling eventually created problems. The 50-ton ceiling weakened and deteriorated. The tiles were removed for cleaning in the 1980s, closing the arcade. Once the restoration was completed, the arcade reopened to the public in 2007.

We happened on the arcade during a spring 2011 visit to the city. We had spent the morning at the Guggenheim Museum, then walked around the reservoir in the northern end of Central Park before turning south for the trek back to our hotel. The hotel was more than two miles away if we walked a straight line, but we were zig-zagging through the park seeing sights. We walked across the Great Lawn, climbed to the top of Belvedere Castle next to Turtle Pond, hiked through Shakespeare Garden, weaved through The Ramble, walked around the Loeb Boathouse, then discovered the Bethesda Fountain and the Bethesda Terrace Arcade. 

It was a fun way to spend a spring day.

Since that day I’ve been amazed at how many times I see Bethesda Terrace Arcade and the adjacent Bethesda Fountain used as locations in television shows, movies and advertising. And each time I see it I’m reminded of that spring day spent exploring Central Park.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.