National Tobacco Company Building

National Tobacco Company Building National Tobacco Company Building National Tobacco Company Building National Tobacco Company Building

National Tobacco Company Building (1933)

Napier’s remarkable recovery

Not everyone suffered during the Great Depression. Gerhard Husheer’s National Tobacco Company, founded in 1922, made profits of £35,000 a year during the ’30s, coining it while killing them, so it had the money to rebuild in style after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake. This magnitude 7.8 quake, New Zealand’s most calamitous natural disaster of the 20th century, struck on 3 February 1931 with the force of 100 million tonnes of TNT. It killed 256 people and seriously injured more than 400. Much of what it failed to flatten burned down in the fires that broke out.

Husheer turned to Louis Hay, one of the architects who transformed the face of central Napier with the economical, quickly built and new art deco style. Not that there was anything cheap about this building. The tobacco tycoon sent Hay’s first set of plans back with a demand for something fancier. And here it is, an oddly successful blend with art nouveau tendrils tipped with roses adorning an art deco sunburst. Never mind: the arch in the square is pure Louis Sullivan art deco.

Art deco is now widely appreciated and the fag factory is the poster boy for the ‘Newest City on the Earth’, or as the Art Deco Trust now proclaims, ‘The Art Deco Capital of the World’. It was not always so. Until a visiting International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) delegation sparked interest in the city’s streetscapes, Napier’s politicians and businesses had shown little interest in preservation. Long known as the Rothmans Building, it has recently been repainted in more authentic colours and renamed the National Tobacco Company Building. It is open to the public on weekdays. Enjoy the wooden doors, carved by Walter Isaac Marquand of Hastings, and the elaborate dome.

Further information

This site is item number 89 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

Before going out to Port Ahuriri, drop into the offices of the Art Deco Trust at 7 Tennyson Street in Napier for information about the art deco and art nouveau heritage of Napier and Hastings.

Websites

Books

  • Matthew Wright, Quake: Hawke’s Bay 1931, 2nd edition, Reed Books, Auckland, 2006
  • The Art Deco Trust has a range of small books on aspects of Napier’s history and heritage. See here.

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