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February 13, 2012

The Rebirth of Napier

On Feb 3 1931, at 10.47am an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the seaside town of Napier in New Zealand. Fires soon broke out, destroying buildings that had survived the earthquake. 157 died in Napier due to the earthquake and resulting fires.

Instead of rebuilding the Victorian-style town straight away, the townsfolk formed a committee and made a careful plan for the new town. The decision to go with the Art Deco style was a practical one. The buildings were robust, should there be further earthquakes. They were cheap to build—a consideration since it was the depression. And finally, Art Deco was fashionable.

The first building to go up after the quake was the Market Reserve Building. The builders used rivets on the steel frame, instead of welding it. They wanted to create as much noise as possible to send a message of hope to the the people.

These days the Art Deco features are a real feature and bring a lot of tourists to the town. I rather like the plain block-type style of the buildings and the intricate zigzag and starburst patterns. Egyptian and Mayan designs are also visible on many buildings. Leadlight glass designs were also a common decoration, but I don’t have any photos of those. 

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This is the former Hotel Central, which was built in 1932. It has balconies, balconets and zigzag and sunburst decorations.

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This shot shows the interior of the current ASB Bank. This building features a Maori design in red, black and white. This photo really doesn’t do the decor justice. It’s breath-taking. I stood inside the bank and gawked.

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Top left: Colenso House, done in Spanish Mission style.

Top right: Daily Telegraph Building. This building contains most of the Art Deco styles including zigzags, fountain shapes, and sunburst.

Middle left: Thorps building as a Mayan flavor to its facade.

Middle right: The interior of the Masonic Hotel.

Bottom left: The exterior of the Masonic Hotel.

Bottom right: A view of the buildings in Emerson Street, the main street of Napier.

Click on any photo to enlarge it.

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The Art Deco flavor is enhanced with music, souvenirs, cars, and costumes. Even the fountain is designed to blend with the buildings around the town. Visitors can take a tour or do a self-tour. It’s a pleasant walk with lots of cafes and pubs along the way to take a break. The perfect way to while away a few hours. I highly recommend a visit to Napier, if you’re ever down this way.

Do you like the Art Deco style?


  1. Ciara Knight

    What a tragic day. :(
    I SO want to visit there. *sigh* I will make it someday.

    • Shelley Munro

      This earthquake was a huge event in NZ history, but the people in the town really did a great job in the rebuild. It’s an interesting place to visit now. The beaches and nearby vineyards don’t hurt either :)

  2. Mary Kirkland

    Loved the pictures.

    • Shelley Munro

      I’m glad you enjoyed them, Mary.

  3. Mr Munro

    We will be in Miami later this year, it’ll be interesting to compare their Art Deco buildings.

    • Shelley Munro

      Yes, it will be interesting to compare :)

  4. Heather

    I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Art Deco (my tastes run more towards Victorian and English cottage), but it’s interesting how the rebuilding unified and brought the community back from such a devasting event.

    • Shelley Munro

      Personally, I love Georgian buildings, but I did enjoy learning about Art deco and came to appreciate them. I quite liked some of the buildings.

      • Heather

        Georgian architecture is okay. I also find myself drawn to old Gothic structures, too.