Harstons Building

33-35 Hastings Street, Napier

  • Harston's Building.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 24/03/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1143 Date Entered 21st September 1989


City/District Council

Napier City


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 5069

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The firm of Messrs Harstons Ltd established in Napier in 1904 was the agent for many leading makes of piano, at a time in which almost every home was furnished with a piano, and musical evenings were an important part of the social scene.

For over fifty years, 1930-1985, Mr NevIlle Harston operated a music shop out of one half of this building, leasing the other half to various businesses trading under the name of Alsops Grocery. Both are fixtures in the consciousness of many locals.

With the introduction of radio, Harston's began to sell radios. However, Harstons never moved into modern stereo or hi-fidelity equipment, and after c.1950 began to specialise in imported sheet music. The store was owned and operated by Neville Harston, himself a musician and an established local identity.

Alsop's Grocery has always operated alongside Harston's.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The Harston's building is in the Spanish Mission style, a twentieth century revival of a Californian building type which was used by Spanish missionaries who in the eighteenth century settled in the Western Americas and began a programme of educating and caring for the indigenous American populations.

The first Spanish missions were built in adobe (mud brick construction) and then whitewashed to deflect the intense heat of the Californian sunshine. The form of the buildings emphasised horizontality with long low structures extending along a plateau, and the decoration was minimal; arched openings and barley twist columns with occasional bell-tower providing the only embellishment.

Simplicity and sincerity were the keynotes of this style and in the twentieth century revival of this style of building, although the religious character or content of Spanish Mission style is gone, these characteristics remain. The use of this style In Napier is very appropriate to the climate and conditions and has been skilfully adapted to the permanent materials used.

The first major prototype for Spanish Mission style revival building was the Californian Building at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The style was a common feature of buildings appearing in architectural periodicals of the late twenties and early thirties. E A Williams had a staff of recently-travelled architects who were keen to explore the possibilities of the style in concrete, brick and plaster.

The 1932 alterations were to a design "greatly similar to that existing prior to the earthquake" (Daily Telegraph 18/10/32 p.9).


The sculpting of the forecourt of Harston's building is a unique feature in this part of Hastings Street, and its Spanish Mission style upper level links to other essays in this style such as the former Gaiety de Luxe Cinema (1932) in Dickens Street, the Provincial Hotel (1932) in Clive Square and E A Williams' other major building in the Spanish Mission style, the Criterion Hotel in Emerson Street (1932).


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Williams, Ernest Arthur (1875-1962)

Williams was an architect and engineer who was prominent in Hawkes Bay as a result of his contribution towards the reconstruction of Napier following the 1931 earthquake.

Born in London he immigrated to New Zealand with his family early in 1908, spending a few months in Christchurch before settling in Napier. Initially he joined the Napier firm of architects W P Finch and Company as an architectural draughtsman, employing the skills he had learned during his training in architecture and joinery in England.

He was a member of the engineering staff of the Napier Borough Council until 1912, holding the position of Clerk of Works. He held this position during the building of the Napier Municipal Baths.

Williams set up his own architectural practice in 1912. He was, however, co-opted as Napier Borough Engineer during World War 1, resuming independent architectural practice in 1921.

After the 1931 earthquake his practice expanded to include eight architectural draughtsmen to cope with the large number of commissions to replace buildings which had been destroyed. His completed works include the Criterion Hotel (192), the Central Hotel (1931), Harston's Building (1930 and 1932), the Daily Telegraph Building (1932), the Napier Harbour Board Offices, and hospital buildings on Bluff Hill.

Angus, William McKenzie

William McKenzie Angus was born in Naseby in 1883. At age 14 he moved to Wellington to work as a blacksmith but changed to carpentry and worked in several North Island centres before coming to Napier in approximately 1907. He founded the firm W M Angus Ltd in 1923, with approximately 4-5 employees. At the time of his death in July 1968 the firm had 200 employees. His first major job in Napier, the Chief Post Office, withstood the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake as did the other buildings he had erected in Napier by this time. (Registration Report for the Waiapu Diocesan Office Building and Synod Hall, 2008).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The Harston's building is in the Spanish Mission style with Art Nouveau detailing for the shop fronts.

The flat roofline shows a use of terracotta tiling to provide a contrast with the white painted plaster which is characteristic of the Spanish Mission style. Below the roofline, the central window area is divided into three windows with angle-arched window heads fronting a balcony. The windows are separated by engaged barley twist columns which have freely adapted Corinthian capitals. Square engaged pilasters with half-capitals link the flanking windows to the surrounding wall. The whole feature is supported by volutes on either side which repeat the patterned wrought iron work of the balcony and the central pediment which carries the name "Harston's" in geometricised lettering raised from the plaster behind.

The ground floor level provides a marked contrast with this Mediterranean inspired effect. Varnished wood is used to frame angled windows which sculpt the forecourt area of the shop and provide large display areas. The clear glass of the display windows is surmounted by leadlights featuring a repeated stylised rose motif at the centre of geometric patterns of stained glass.

Above this, in curvilinear lettering, are words describing the goods sold, so that the effect created is more Art Nouveau than Spanish Mission style. However, the decorative feature of the door handles with their parallel squared rods suggests an Art Deco, or Streamline Moderne influence. Thus the building is eclectic, drawing upon several of the architectural styles prevailing in the twenties and thirties, and combining them in a unique and distinctive mix.

Notable Features

Geometricised leadlight windows and interior shop fittings which carry applied lettering in gold similar to that found on the exterior at ground floor level.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1932 -
Spanish Mission (art Nouveau detailing), 1930, 1932 (reinstated)

1931 -
Gutted by post-earthquake fire

1986 -
Internal modifications following the death of Neville Harston and conversion of the southern wing to a restaurant.

2008 -
Fire June 2008

Construction Details

Wood, brick and plaster with terra cotta tile roof.

Completion Date

19th April 1989

Information Sources

Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

E.A. Williams Obituary, New Zealand Biographies Index, 1962, Vo1.5 p.42

Daily Telegraph

Daily Telegraph

'Work Completed. Harston's Fine New Building. Reconditioning now finished. An attractive Appearance.' Tuesday October 18, 1932, p.9

Daily Telegraph: 'Attractive Premises. Music in a Modern Setting. Messrs Harston's Hastings Street Block. Pleasing Appearance.' Wednesday, November 30, 1932 p.9

'Contract for £3,000. Harston's Reconstruction work to be commenced immediately. Improved Designs' Thursday, June 2, 1932 p.7

Daily Telegraph: 'Music Warehouse back in Permanent (sic) Premises.' December 31, 1932, p.6

Ives, 1982

Heather Ives, The Art Deco Architecture of Napier, Napier, 1982

Shaw, 1990

P. Shaw and P. Hallet, Art Deco Napier: Styles of the Thirties, Cosmos Publications, Napier, 1990

Other Information

A copy of this report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.