Newspaper Article 2015 – Early beginnings of Napier CBD

Early beginnings of Napier CBD

When Napier sections were offered for sale in 1856, the chief surveyor of the Wellington Province, Robert Park (1812-1870), bought section 271 fronting Beach Rd (Marine Parade), Emerson and White Rd (Hastings St).

It was likely bought on property speculation, as many of them were. That section was later bought by general store merchants Neal and Close, who built a store on the Hastings St frontage. A small building existed on the Marine Parade side of section 271 and was said to be one of the first buildings to be erected in the Napier CBD.

Kirkcaldie and Stains, a well-known Wellington department store established in 1863, bought the business and land and buildings of general merchants Neal and Close in December 1896, and advertised a sale of their stock. But Neal and Close bought the business back on January 4, 1897, announcing their purchase in the Daily Telegraph. Kirkcaldie’s took out an advert on the same date and apologised to the Napier public for that, and stated Neal and Close would continue the sale they had begun.

Then, four days later, Kirkcaldie’s bought the business again. That was most puzzling to the Napierites and produced some odd newspaper adverts. No reason was given for this strange behaviours except that Mr Close had decided to retire due to bad health, prompting, it appears, the sale to Kirkcaldie’s.

Mr Neal remained to run the grocery and liquor business.

The Napier Borough Council had been concerned for many years about the safety of the Emerson St and Marine Parade corner. In 1912, it approached John Kirkcaldie to buy part of section 271 to “take off a bad corner”, and he agreed.

When the land was originally surveyed in the 1850s, section 271 went from Hastings St to the foreshore, as Beach Rd (now Marine Parade) only went as far as Emerson St.

When Marine Parade was extended to go past Emerson St on its present course, the corner had become dangerous due to the angle on which Emerson St connected to the Marine Parade.

Kirkcaldie and Stains already had the plans to build a three-storey hotel on the Marine Parade side, and an agreement was struck that Natusch’s architect fee for the building design would in part be refunded – the building now needing to be altered.

In those days if finance was to be raised for a council project, a ratepayer’s poll had to be conducted. A poll was held for the £2250 ($358,000) needed to buy Kirkcaldie’s land, but that was rejected by the Napierites.

The matter rested until February 1914, when John Kirkcaldie’s son, Sidney, met the Napier Borough Council about widening Emerson St.

Kirkcaldie’s were about to build a two-storeyed office block, and the architect for Kirkcaldie’s, Mr Natusch snr, said taking the land would require altering the buildings plans he had drawn up, as the council wanted 12 feet (3.6 metres) of the Emerson St frontage and 18 feet (5.4 metres) on the Marine Parade.

Sidney Kirkcaldie agreed to give 12 feet of land fronting Emerson St to the council for the consideration of £20 ($3200).

The two-storeyed office block on the corner of Marine Parade and Emerson St was leased off the plans to stock and station firm Murray Roberts in January 1914, and was completed at the end of 1914.

The building plan allowed for the land sold at the corner of Emerson St and Marine Parade.

Kirkcaldie and Stains closed its Napier business around 1918-20. The business buildings were bought from Kirkcaldie and Stains by Alfred Henry Wilson, who then sold the building in July 1920 to the newly formed Hawke’s Bay Direct Supply Association Ltd (DSA), a drapery business operating on a co-operative basis by giving rebates and dividends to shareholders. It planned to replace the building, but, owing to expensive material costs after World War I, decided to renovate instead.

Kirkcaldie’s had been good employers in Napier, even giving staff a week’s salary bonus upon reaching 50 years in business in 1913: John Kirkcaldie regularly visited Hawke’s Bay, and was always greeted enthusiastically by his staff.

The Napier YMCA bought in March 1920 Kirkcaldie’s office block building now known as the Murray Roberts Building and retained it as ground-floor tenant. The upstairs portion was altered for the YMCA to provide a gym. At that stage, it appears section 271 was on different land titles.

Both of the buildings on section 271 – DSA and the renamed YMCA building were destroyed in the February 3, 1931, Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The secretary of the YMCA, Mr FC Main, was at St John s Cathedral attending a service when the quake struck.

A Mr Angelo worked for two hours sawing through beams that pinned Mr Main to rescue him. Mr Main woke up in Palmerston North Hospital after sustaining serious head injuries and memory loss. He was sent to Hanmer Springs to recover, and then recuperated in England for six months.

He had hoped to rejoin the Napier YMCA, but commented on his return from England in May 1932 that money shortages had forced the Napier YMCA into recess.

It is likely that no earthquake insurance meant the YMCA section had to be sold to cover debts. The Napier YMCA performed valuable services during the earthquake, but went into closure until 1951.

The YMCA’s section was built on in 1935/36 by Temperance and General Insurance, with its distinctive landmark building, the T & G Building.

DSA’s section fronting Hastings St was bought by the Bank of New Zealand, and its new building completed in 1932.

Both buildings today form an integral and distinctive part of Napier’s Art Deco heritage.

Michael Fowler will be releasing his new book Hastings, Havelock North and Napier: A collage of history in October.

Photo caption – LANDMARKS: The YMCA building (left) now the site of The Dome on the corner of Emerson St and Marine Parade.

Michael Fowler
Historic Hawke’s Bay

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Newspaper article

Date published

15 August 2015

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Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today and Michael Fowler


  • John Kirkcaldie
  • Sidney Kirkcaldie
  • F C Main
  • Mr Natusch
  • Robert Park
  • Alfred Henry Wilson

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