Napier’s Art Deco heritage is down, in no small part, to the earthquake that levelled the city in 1931. At 10.47am on Tuesday 3 February that year, a magnitude 7.8 quake rocked Hawke’s Bay and together with its 525 aftershocks, brought the buildings of Napier tumbling down. What wasn’t destroyed by the quake was burnt to a cinder in the fires that spread rapidly across town despite the fire service’s best efforts. In all, almost 260 people lost their lives, 161 of them in Napier itself, and the city was devastated.
Napier New Zealand Art Deco Heritage
An Art Deco phoenix rises from the ashes
But from the ashes of tragedy sprang a new city. Within two years, the central city was rebuilt, much in the style of the time: Art Deco. Every February the city celebrates its annual festival; this year, it runs from the 19th to the 22nd. To really get into the swing of things, do like the locals do and wander the streets dressed in period clothing. The festival’s events include outdoor concerts, vintage car parades, Great Gatsby themed picnics, guided walks, and other activities in both Napier and nearby Hastings.
Getting the local community on board
Once unpopular, since the 1980s, the potential of Napier New Zealand’s Art Deco scene has been recognised and with the formation of the Art Deco Trust, the buildings’ colour palette was broadened from the traditional whites and creams. The pastel-painted buildings wouldn’t be out of place in South Beach, Miami. Many residents now fully embrace Art Deco’s importance and there have been many successful renovations. One such project is the old Australian Mutual Provident Society building, the result of a year’s worth of sacrificed weekends from the team of lawyers who owned it.
Where to find the Napier New Zealand Art Deco district
Take a walk around the triangle of roads bounded by Clive Square, Dickens Street and Browning Street. Architect E. A. Williams was one of several men who led the city’s renaissance. Williams preferred to build in the Art Deco style, drawing on influences from Miami. One of his most famous buildings is the Daily Telegraph building on Tennyson Street, featuring zigzag edges to its doorway and the crisp geometric lines for which Art Deco is renowned. It’s not alone, however. If you want to stay in an Art Deco hotel, then you can do no better than the Masonic, also on Tennyson Street. Designed by W. J. Prowse, it’s even been the choice of royalty – Queen Elizabeth II stayed here in the 1950s.
The base of the National Tobacco Company is out of the centre at Port Ahuriri at the junction of Bridge and Ossian Streets. The building was designed by Louis Hay, a great admirer of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, blending Art Deco with the more fancy Art Nouveau style on tobacco tycoon Gerhard Husheer’s instructions. It’s well worth making the effort to get out there and see it.