Years ago I opened up a New Zealand magazine and my eyes rested on a photograph of a blue building.
It was a building that stood alone in it’s glory and not only did it capture my attention at that moment, it’s beauty made such an impression on me that it embedded itself in my consciousness as a place I really wanted to see for myself in my lifetime.
I’d go as far as to say that it’s probably the first time I ever said to myself:
“I really want to go and see that myself one day“.
Back then, as a young adult in my early twenties I wouldn’t have said that I had any fondness at all for architectural detail.
In fact I probably would have laughed heartily at anyone who proposed the idea, but looking back, the detail fanatic in me was alive and well: it was there in the fine lines of the etched zinc plates I wound with ink-stained hands through the printing press, it was there in the wood and lino cuts I was busy carving out and printing, it was there in the pen and pencil drawings that I doodled incessantly in the notebooks I carried around with me everywhere.
I cut the picture of the blue building out of the magazine and stuck it in a little scrapbook of images that inspired me and whilst the scrapbook is long gone after various life upheavals, It’s one of the two building photos I had in it that I never forgot about.
That blue building is the reason I wanted to come to Napier on our way north, this is the moment when I could actually see my blue building for the first time ever: up close and in person.
In the intervening years since I cut out the magazine picture the building has undergone a facelift, renovation and been lovingly restored to it’s original splendour.
This also entailed bringing it back to it’s original colour scheme so it’s no longer blue in colour but now a creamy beige-peach-pink colour which I suppose changes a bit in depth and hue depending on the light of the day and the season in question.
Finally I’m standing in front of it for real: the building I knew from the photograph as “The Rothman’s Building”.
I discover that this building has had almost as many name changes over the decades as colour changes, it’s apparently now officially known as the “National Tobacco Company Building” but was also known as the “New Zealand Tobacco Company” building when it was first built.
The New Zealand Historic Places website has a nice history of this building and so I will take the liberty of giving you some edited text from their site (italicised) and of course the link to their site http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=1170 should you wish to read their entire text in full.
The Rothman’s Building, regarded by many as one of Napier’s most elegant commercial buildings dating to the 1930s can be regarded as a monument to Gerhard Husheer, one the founding members of the New Zealand tobacco industry, and an important work of the architect Louis Hay.
Johann Gerhard Husheer (1864-1954), a German by birth, immigrated with his family to New Zealand from South Africa in 1911, with the intention of establishing a tobacco industry in the country.
In 1913, following successful experiments in growing tobacco crops at Paki Paki, Hastings, Husheer established the New Zealand Tobacco Company and opened a processing factory at Ahuriri, Napier, in 1915.
In 1925 Husheer commissioned Louis Hay (1881-1948), a Napier based architect, to design a factory at the Ahuriri site.
Although the external walls of the factory were to collapse during the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, the internal structure remained largely intact and production continued relatively unhindered following the disaster. The Depression also had little impact on the National Tobacco Company, as demand for the company’s product remained high.
By 1932 the National Tobacco Company was one of the wealthiest industries in Napier and certainly the largest employer.
Husheer commissioned Louis Hay to design a main frontage for his factory to replace the structure that had collapsed in the earthquake.
Hay’s initial sketches were rejected by Husheer for not being extravagant enough. Hay’s second plan, was for a deceptively simple building based on the idea of an ‘arch within a square’, decorated with detailed representations of plants such as roses, raupo, and vine leaves.
The motif of roses also featured on the lamps on the side of the entrance and lead-light windows. Leading up to the doors were steps decorated with tiles, and brass handrails.
Entering through an elaborately carved set of doors, the foyer featured a marble dado, and oak panelling, combined with a domed lead-light skylight to create an overall feeling of elegance and luxury. The entire design, particularly the use of simple geometric forms decorated with applied decoration, reflected Hay’s interest in the Art Nouveau style.
Although built in the middle of the Depression, Husheer suffered no adverse reaction for this obvious display of wealth, as he was also known for his philanthropic gestures, handing out food to those in need in during the hardest years of the economic crisis.
After Husheer’s death in 1954 the company was acquired by Rothmans of Pall Mall. The entranceway was largely disused after the 1960s when a new administration building was built adjacent.
In the mid 1980s interest in the older building increased and work was begun on restoring the building to its former glory. A glazed screen that had been removed at some time was rebuilt based on a photograph of the original.
During the 1990s the paint-work was restored to its original colour and a number of the lead-light windows that had been removed, were remade. In 1999 Rothman’s merged with British American Tobacco Ltd. The company continues to process tobacco at the Ahuriri plant, and the Hay designed entrance building is open to the public during working hours.
The Rothman’s Building (recently renamed the National Tobacco Company Building) is a testimony to the success of the tobacco industry in New Zealand in the early twentieth century, and in particular the role of Gerhard Hussheer, considered to be one of New Zealand’s foremost industrialist.
Architecturally it is regarded as the jewel in Napier’s architectural crown.
The building is perhaps one of Louis Hay’s best preserved public buildings, and it is an excellent example of the craftsmanship of local artists in post earthquake Napier. Today, located on a corner site amongst the industrial buildings of Ahuriri, it is a noted landmark, and is a popular destination for visitors to Napier.
Hmmm,.. not just generic statement of ”a popular destination for visitors”, but also a very special day for a certain Kiwidutch for whom the “image” of this building, with me for so many years, finally became reality.