Napier 1

The Masonic Hotel in central Napier.

Napier, New Zealand (North Island)

The redevelopment of Napier as an Art Deco city in the early 1930s was the consequence of a tumultuous and fatal earthquake which happened on 3 February, 1931. The devastation caused by a pair of earthquakes occuring thirty seconds apart, one measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, saw the deaths of 258 people in the Hawkes Bay area, the greater number of them in Napier. The earthquakes and the fires that followed them caused the near total destruction of the old, colonial Napier city centre.

Over the next few years an ambitious building boom saw the city centre and other parts rebuilt in the variants of the new, modern, international style. Almost all of these buildings remained in existence up until they were rediscovered in the 1980s when appreciation for Art Deco was steadily growing. From this point on buildings which had been simply painted white for as long as could be remembered sprouted bright colours and Napier was reborn as an Art Deco masterpiece. Do take note of the architects’ knowledge and integration of traditional Maori forms in seeking a distinctly New Zealand identity.

Napier Art Deco Building 1: The Masonic Hotel

The Masonic Hotel’s Tennyson Street side.

The Masonic Hotel at 2 Tennyson Street was one of the newer buildings to be destroyed by the Napier earthquake. The first Masonic Hotel opened on the same site on 14 September, 1861, however a fire razed the building on 23 May 1896. It was rebuilt in 1897 to plans by the architect Stanley Jeffreys which made for an even grander hotel. The building was expanded in 1906 to make it one of the largest in New Zealand at this time, as well as one of the most up to date. Twenty five years later the fires that followed the earthquake of 1931 destroyed it once again. They could have renamed it ‘The Phoenix’ as once again it rose from the ashes in 1932, this time clad in Art Deco by Wellington architectural firm WJ Prouse & Wilson, though mainly designed by Norman Wilson. Among the decorative touches designed for it were an intricate second floor pergola overlooking the ocean, along with an elaborate porch above the entrance with the name: ‘Masonic’ spelt out three times in stained glass.

Porch and entrance to the Masonic Hotel.

Napier Art Deco Building 2: The Daily Telegraph

The wondeerfully detailed Daily Telegraph building.

The Daily Telegraph was a newspaper founded in Napier in February 1871. In 1932-33 a new, two-storey building with a symmetrical design in Tennyson Street was constructed for the newspaper. It served Napier, and the general region of Hawke’s Bay, until 1999. At this point it merged with another local newspaper, the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune, together forming Hawke’s Bay Today. At the centre top of the façade is a flagpole. The architect was EA Williams who created a tour de force of stripped down classical and other Art Deco motifs. The jazzy lettering along the top for the Daily Telegraph was probably the most prominent in the city when it was built.

A detail of the upper façade.

Napier Art Deco Building 3: The Auckland Savings Bank

Auckland Savings Bank (ASB)

Located at 100 Hastings Street at the corner of Emerson Street, this 1932 building was constructed originally for the Bank of New Zealand. The architects Crichton, McKay & Haughton of Wellington fused indigenous Maori motifs with Art Deco forms. One example of this is the capitals above the pilasters on either side of the entrance which make use of the traditional ‘wealth of the tribe’ motif. Between these and along the side repeating chevrons are filled in with native vegetal spiral forms known as koru.

Traditional Maori forms on the ASB.

Napier Art Deco Building 4: The Hotel Central

The Hotel Central exterior.

Situated on Dalton Street, the Hotel Central is a striking work of Art Deco architecture. Going up in 1931, the same year as the earthquake, it was one of the earlier buildings to go up in central Napier. The architect was EA Williams, a local resident who made thorough use of Art Deco sunbursts and geometric shapes. The window moulding above the main entrance is quite spectacular.

A detail of the Hotel Central’s sunburst window frame.

Napier Art Deco Building 5: Canning & Loudoun

Canning and Loudon.

Napier seems to have everything: at 116 Tennyson Street the Canning & Loudoun building is an Art Deco parking garage. Again local architect EA Williams designed it and it was constructed in 1936.

Napier Art Deco Building 6: Napier Antiques and Jewellery

On the corner: Napier Antiques and Jewellery.

63 Tennyson Street, at the corner of Cathedral Lane, was originally the Ross & Glendinning Building constructed in 1932. Once more EA Williams was the architect, this time using some famous Maori pitau, or fern frond motifs. These come from rafter decorations in traditional Maori buildings.

Maori fern frond motifs on Napier Antiques building.

Napier Art Deco Building 7: Kidsons Building aka Kidsons Corner

Kidson’s Corner

The Kidsons Building, as it alternative name suggests, sits at 170-172 Emerson Street on the corner of Dalton Street. The architect was H Alfred Hill and it was completed in 1933. Among the many fine Art Deco details on it is the zigzag and chevron combination.

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