In 1931 Napier city in New Zealand was faced with a huge rebuilding project after a massive earthquake levelled block after block of the city centre and fires wiped out an entire district.
There was a world-wide economic Depression and times were tough. but as often happens after natural disasters, people pulled together to make things happen.
The website of the New Zealand Encyclopaedia http://www.teara.govt.nz/en tells us:
“Napier’s new town centre boasted many improvements, including wider streets and some of New Zealand’s earliest underground power and telephone lines.
The loss of life caused by the collapse of so many buildings shocked the country.
Engineers studied the building damage to identify the most dangerous defects in design and construction.
A Buildings Regulations Committee developed guidelines to ensure the new buildings were safer; their recommendations were the forerunner of building codes now used throughout New Zealand.
Four rival architectural practices joined to share resources and ideas. The buildings of Louis Hay reflected the designs of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Natusch & Sons’ buildings were simple in style, often using arched windows, and Finch & Westerholm produced many Spanish mission style buildings.
Most popular was the art deco style of the time, which emphasised spare, clean lines and geometric motifs.
E. A. Williams designed some of Napier’s most striking art deco buildings.
Their austere modernistic design contrasted sharply with the ornate edifices that had caused so many deaths. “
At the time of the Napier rebuild, the term “Art Deco” had not yet been coined. It was just a style that happened to be in vogue at the time, and it suited Napier because of the contrast with the old building style and helped people move on from their bad memories of what had happened.
As with most fashions, the world-wide preference for this style waned with time but by then Napier was left with brand new Deco style building and no cash left to change with the new fashion so their deco building stayed intact.
In the next decades some of the deco buildings were not always particularly well kept and fell into various states of disrepair but in 1985 some people realised that with these buildings they had a hidden gem on their doorstep and so a meeting was called for interested parties to make something of the cities heritage.
This came about because of the following event … (I think I have remembered this story correctly from the tour guide, but stupidly I didn’t write a note about it at the time so I stand corrected if I’m not quite up with the facts )
Apparently a developer knocked down one of the deco buildings (late 1970’s or early 1980’s) in order to build something in a newer style… something went wrong when he was on the demolition site and the Deco building he was destroying killed him… (justice?)
When another Deco building was earmarked for demolition a short while afterwards a few passionate residents realised that this progression could mean the end of their Art Deco heritage buildings and wanted to take action.
Organisers had low expectations of a response but hoped at least for a few passionate people who could form a team to raise awareness. To their amazement 1100 people turned up and the transformation of the fortunes of the Deco buildings was born with the formation of the Art Deco Trust.
Once people saw that their buildings were special and could become a tourist attraction for the community, they began to take pride again in their buildings. Over subsequent decades the Deco Trust has gone from strength to strength and owners regularly compete to see who has the most beautifully kept and decorated building.
The Deco buildings are now safe from demolition after being nominated in 2007 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the city boasts the title of being the world’s most consistently Art Deco city.
Let’s go see what looks like…