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The Napier Art Deco Historic Precinct is part of the central business district of the City of Napier, located between the shoreline of Hawke Bay and the coastal margin of the Heretaunga Plains, Hawke's Bay, North Island.
Napier township was originally surveyed and laid out in the 1850s. Most of the town centre was destroyed on 3 February 1931 by a major earthquake (measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale) and the ensuing fires. The Hawke's Bay earthquake not only destroyed the centre of Napier, but caused radical changes to the surrounding landscape. It was a natural disaster of major proportions. This destruction resulted in a massive reconstruction of the town centre. Napier became New Zealand's (and indeed the world's) newest city with its own Southern Hemisphere version of Art Deco style. Due to the economic climate and the number of casualties caused by falling masonry and decorative features during the earthquake, the scale of the town centre was limited to one or two storeys and the buildings were decorated with low relief ornamentation. Reinforced concrete was used in construction and the use of older materials such as bricks was shunned. Ornamental motifs used on buildings reflect all of the themes prevalent in Art Deco design, and include authentic Maori designs on both exteriors and interiors of some buildings. These motifs are seen not only in exterior low relief stucco but also in interior plasterwork, leaded glass, metal grilles, flooring and joinery.
The central business district was reconstructed mainly over the two years following the earthquake, with planning decisions made by two government-appointed commissioners and an Earthquake Reconstruction Committee. Although the number of architects involved in the town centre reconstruction was relatively small with five main contributors, there is a wide variety of building styles in such a compact area. By the end of the 1930s, central Napier consisted almost entirely of buildings and landscaping of the previous 20 years. Because the creation of a completely new city centre halts the normal cycle of demolition and renewal, no changes occurred at all in central Napier until the 1960s. Buildings have been lost since then, but only a small proportion of the total stock.
Napier's Art Deco precinct possesses authenticity in design, material and workmanship, for few of the buildings have been demolished or unsympathetically modified. The precinct has been registered as an Historic Area under the Historic Places Act 1993. Protection of heritage in the Napier City District Plan is offered through rules, incentives, education and design guides. Heritage is identified and grouped according to the type and level of significance. There is strong support within the community for the Art Deco heritage, and the values are actively promoted.
Napier can be compared with a number of other Art Deco towns of the same era. Prominent examples include Miami Beach and Santa Barbara in the USA (with which Art Deco Napier has some similarities as a seaside resort), Bandung, Indonesia (originally planned as the future capital of Java), and Asmara in Eritrea (built by the Italians as a model colonial city). None would surpass Napier in style and coherence.