September 6, 2014

Napier: taking the Art Deco walk

A few days before the massive 1931 earthquake in Napier the animals were titchy.

Now we know why.

Napier Earthquake

Hastings Street immediately after the quake.  Collection Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust/Ruawharo Ta-u-Rangi, 7473

At 10.57am on a sunny summer February 3rd the earth exploded, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake heaving land upwards and out of the sea. Thirty seconds later the world burst into violent buckling and twisting and in three minutes the town of Napier had fallen to its knees. As the veils of choking dust settled, survivors were met with a scene of devastation.

“Everything was so silent after it happened. “I thought we were the only ones left in the world,” said Mrs Edith Lane. (Art Deco Trust)

And if that wasn’t enough, fires broke out but with water mains broken nothing could be done to stop them. That day 256 people in Napier, Hastings and Wairoa were killed.

The 1931 earthquake remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

Napier bronze statue

This bronze of statue of the daughter of one of the 1930s architects stands pride of place in Napier’s shopping precinct.

But like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, and remember this is the Depression of the 1930s, the decision was bravely made to rebuild the city. The architectural fashion of the day was Art Deco and Spanish Mission styles with Egyptian and Mayan influences, so the four architect firms in the city banded together in one office and set about designing this new city.

Art deco Napier
ASB Bank Napier

The ASB Bank building exterior

Maori art deco Napier

Maori designs were worked into the art deco style of the ASB Bank building

But Napier’s Art Deco heritage was never appreciated and in the 1980s, these “old fashioned” buildings were being pulled down and replaced with “modern” glass and aluminium office blocks decked out in corporate pink and grey. I know because I was born in Hawkes Bay and remember thinking they were funny and dilapidated. Don’t judge me!

Marine parade sound shell napier

Napier’s sound shell on Marine Parade

Fortunately some zealous “radicals” became so exercised about the demolition of Napier’s architectural history and in 1985 the Art Deco Trust was formed which not only saved the city from pink and grey 80’s offices, but put it on the international stage as the second major Art Deco city in the world behind Miami.

Criterion Hotel Napier

The famous Criterion (Cri) on Emmerson Street

Art deco motif Napier

A close up of an Art Deco building facade

Napier art deco man hole

Even the manhole covers are Art Deco

Street names Napier

The names of the streets were set into the footpath after the quake so nothing could fall down

Art Deco Napier Computer Systems

Inside Napier Computer Systems

Napier Public Trust

The only building to remain standing was this newly built Public Trust office

In mid-February every year Napier comes alive with the Art Deco Weekend. Events run from Depression Dinners and Delux Dinners – all in fancy dress, to a long lunch down Marine Parade, the Gatsby picnic, concerts, and a ball. But even if people aren’t attending specific events, the streets are filled with 30s costumes, music and cars.

It’s a Bucket List New Zealand event and I’m going to work on getting to Napier for February 18-22 2015!

Napier Emmerson street

Shopping along Emmerson Street today

Art deco veranda ceiling

And make sure you look up. This is the pressed metal ceiling under the veranda

Art deco Daily Telegraph Napier

The Daily Telegraph building

___________________________________

Have you visited Napier? What do you think of its heritage?

___________________________________

Take an Art Deco Walking Tour for $20 and learn about the city and its history as you wander past and into these classic yet contemporary buildings.

About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

"Napier: taking the Art Deco walk" - What do you think?

Leave a comment