Magazine Article 2020 – Learning From the Past

learning from the past

Here we embark on a new series looking at aspects of Hawke’s Bay’s rich history with the aid of the Knowledge Bank, whose existence is all about gathering and protecting our history, preserving our identity for future generations.

WORDS Grant Ancell
PHOTOS Supplied by the Knowledge Bank

Marine Parade playground (date unknown)

We live in the present and spend a lot of time planning and worrying about the future. Given the demands of the present and keeping an eye on what is yet to come may cause some to ask, Why bother with what has been?

History, however, is the study of the past. And while historians do not perform heart transplants, create gaming apps, or arrest criminals, history is an invaluable tool for us to establish our identity – unquestionably one of the reasons why our education buffs encourage its teaching. Family identity is confirmed through genealogy, and many institutions, businesses, communities, and social units use historical fact in this way.

Napier’s Marine Parade is old. Well over 100. And to most of us it has always been ‘just there’. So we accept it as such. But pause a moment and think about how it happened: how it was developed and who planned, approved, financed and constructed it. As a public amenity, if it were today, the council would have played a major role in all the steps. But not in this case. Council, although a player in the process, was not the major operator or contributor.

The Parade’s pathway began in 1899 when, after a particularly bad storm swept up the beach and damaged a few buildings, the seawall was built – at great expense. Its top was two to three metres above the beach and behind it, the council constructed a promenade and planted Norfolk Pines. Move forward to 1914 when the Thirty Thousand Club came into being: a philanthropist organisation, which began to promote the city and develop public amenities that would encourage growth. Move forward again to 1928 when the club was endeavouring to establish a promenade and garden area on the beach. One way of achieving this was to build up the shingle on the seawall’s immediate seaward side.  They built a low, sloping wall that allowed the shingle to be swept over it during the incoming tide but trap the shingle so it did not flow away.  That wall is still visible, separating the lower lawn from the upper lawn.

Photo caption –

Marine Parade looking down from Bluff Hill (pre-1931 – actual date unknown)


February 1931 arrived and BOOM! the land rose two and a half metres, forcing the beach shore back some 70 metres or so. It also caused the end of Bluff Hill to collapse, along with the reservoir further back. Combine that with the huge amounts of rubble from collapsed buildings and, suddenly, there was material to fill in the old shoreline under the seawall up to its current level. And that’s what happened. The town got rid of some of its building rubble, the sandstone from the Bluff Hill collapse covered it and excess soil from the reservoir reconstruction formed the topsoil.

The game was on for the Thirty Thousand Club. They had the funds that the council lacked and good old lobbying got them the authority to construct a public amenity. The first amenity was the gardens. Then ex-Mayor of Gisborne Mr J. R. Kirk donated the sundial, and almost immediately the paved area was built using public donations and cement gifted to the city by the three concrete manufacturers. The public donation was on the basis that each paving square was sold for $2.50 (converted from pounds) or, in today’s money, $305.

No 32
Veronica Sunbay, Marine Parade

It took until October 1934 for work to begin on the Sunbay and, as it was being finished, the British Admiralty offered the ship’s bell from the recently decommissioned HMS Veronica. Council planning and approval for the Sunbay was facilitated one afternoon by an on-site meeting of two or three senior councillors. Not a resource consent or public consultation in sight.

With alarming speed, the Thirty Thousand Club began building the Soundshell. Regularly penned letters to the newspaper pointed out that the building would obscure the view of the sweep of the bay. But to no avail. The Soundshell, along with the current colonnades, came into being, with regular concerts and roller skating events becoming very popular occurrences.

Soundshell in 1935, soon after its grand opening

Children in costume performing for a large group of spectators, possibly for the opening of the Soundshell in 1935

No 59. Napier, NZ.

Marine Parade Norfolk pines were planted in 1895

Marine Parade, Napier, N.Z.

Marine Parade walkway in 1931


Left to right along Marine Parade, Napier, showing damage after the 3 February 1931 earthquake: Dr Moore’s Hospital; Napier Club; ruined Masonic Hotel

The final development of the 1930s was the Tom Parker Fountain. On 23rd July 1936, The Daily Telegraph wrote that Mr Tom Parker had donated $2000 towards the construction of a huge electric fountain, then said to be one of a few found in the whole world. The final cost, $6400, was made up by the council. On 23rd December 1936, the fountain was switched on.

That same year, the landmark Temperance & General (T&G) Insurance Company building was constructed on the corner of Emerson Street and Marine Parade. As Napier’s largest building it stood as a symbol, not only for the region’s recovery from the earthquake but also for the great depression itself.

Other additions to Marine Parade have been introduced over the years: the MTG Hawke’s Bay (the museum, art gallery and theatre); the National Aquarium; Pania of the Reef statue; and the Napier Prison, the oldest in New Zealand and the only place in the city where earthquake damage has been left in place. Another moment in time.

Marine Parade is certainly part of the identity of Hawke’s Bay. Its past reflects the power of nature and of people’s ability to work with and change as nature directs. The outcome is a wonderful, colourful place that continues to connect our community.

The Swan Memorial swimming pool shelter acted as a shelter for the then adjacent paddling pool on Marine Parade, erected in 1917. The pool was said to be the first of its kind in New Zealand – created in honour of former Napier Mayor and MP, George H. Swan.


Original digital file



Grant Ancell is a volunteer at the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank

Date published

July 2020

Format of the original

Magazine article

Creator / Author

  • Grant Ancell


ND Publications Ltd


Published with permission of Living Hawke's Bay

Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.