Public Trust Building

100 Tennyson Street And 19 Dalton Street, Napier

  • Public Trust Building, Napier. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy . Taken By: Paul Le Roy – Minicooperd. Date: 18/04/2016.
  • Public Trust Building, Napier. Image has been cropped. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Andrew Caldwell. Taken By: Andrew Caldwell. Date: 23/03/2017.
  • Public Trust Building, Napier. Building detail.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 16/02/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1167 Date Entered 21st September 1989


City/District Council

Napier City


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Pt Town Sec 163 Napier (CT HBB1/1010), Hawkes Bay Land District


The Public Trust Building, Napier, is one of the few buildings to survive the Hawke's Bay earthquake of 1931 and is one of the finest examples of government architecture in provincial New Zealand.

The Public Trustee was established by the government in 1872 as a response to the lack of people willing and qualified to take on the duties of trustee of a deceased person's estate. By the beginning of the twentieth century the Public Trustee was responsible for the administration of lunatic's and convict's estates, provident funds, relief funds and native reserves, and managed a fund at the value of over £1,000,000. Although the trustee acted through district managers and agents, the increased workload, plus delays caused by the need to seek the involvement of the trustee in Wellington, led to a call to change the structure of the trust. The Public Trust Office Amendment Act 1912 enabled the trustee to delegate powers to Local Deputy Trustees. Between 1913 and 1922 the Public Trust decentralised and built permanent offices in regional centres. One such centre was Napier.

Initially the work of the Public Trustee in Napier was conducted in the Government Buildings, but as business increased the office needed larger accommodation, and it was moved to a building in Tennyson Street. By 1918 the Public Trustee's workload had again increased and it was decided to buy a piece of land on the corner of Tennyson and Bolton Streets. A competition was held to select the design of the building, with George Alexander Troup (1863-1941), head of the newly established Architectural Branch of New Zealand Railways, acting as assessor. The conditions of the competition were that the building should be two storeys high, and so designed that two additional storeys could be added at a future date. The walls were required to be of brick and the entire building fireproof. These conditions proved to be very provident stipulations. The first prize was awarded to architects Hyland and Phillips of Hastings, and a tender of £14,693 from Hamilton and Whillans of Napier was accepted to construct the building. Opened in 1922, the classical doric design, a convincing evocation of Greek Temple architecture, gave the building a landmark presence in a street that at that time had relatively few large and imposing structures of this kind.

On 3 February 1931 a massive earthquake struck the Hawke's Bay region. At 7.8 on the Richter scale, the earthquake did huge damage and is considered to be the largest natural disaster to have occurred in New Zealand in the twentieth century. A total of 258 people died. In Napier, near the centre of the quake, the earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed most of the central business district. One of the few buildings to survive was the Public Trust Building. Two weeks after the earthquake, Wellington-based architect, Stanley Fearn, assessed the building for the Public Trustee and found that, although the building was in no danger of collapse, it was in need of considerable reconstruction and strengthening. This work was undertaken by Fletcher Construction over a period of five months and involved supporting existing columns with new pillars of concrete and steel. Most of the brick walls had to be reconstructed.

In the meantime some Public Trust employees used the Supreme Court Building for offices, while some were sent to the Dannevirke Office. A few months following the quake they were brought back together in Tiffen Park House, and staff had to carry their ledgers back and forth between the safe in the building to the temporary offices. The Public Trust building was reoccupied on 21 January 1932.

In the months (and years) after the earthquake the Public Trust formed a central part in the administration of the Hawke's Bay Earthquake Relief Fund, set up by Prime Minister Coates. The fund dealt with immediate claims (e.g. for food, clothing, medical treatment, and accommodation), and financial assistance for repair of damage to private dwellings. Grants were also given for private loss, and provision was made for people injured and dependants of persons injured or killed. To help in the distribution of the fund Public Trust employees from around the country were sent to the Hawke's Bay. The last payment from this fund was made in 1960s.

In 1986, as part of the Public Trust programme of upgrading District Offices, the Napier office was renovated. The building was sold in the 1990s and is now used for offices and a gymnasium.

The Public Trust building, Napier, has been an important landmark in the Napier civic centre for most of the twentieth century and has great significance as one of the few buildings to survive the Hawke's Bay Earthquake and subsequent fire. It was the home of the Public Trustee and staff until it was sold in the mid-1990s. The Public Trust's particular role in the rejuvenation of Napier after the earthquake gives the building great historic and symbolic significance to the people of Napier. Architecturally it is a magnificent example of neo-Grecian architecture. It is arguably the most distinctive of all Napier's buildings, a considerable statement in a city with many remarkable buildings. It is a most telling contrast with the predominantly Art Deco buildings around it. Its survival is a fortuitous outcome arising from the specific demands made of the successful architectural tenderers, but whatever the reason for its survival, the building represents a symbol of the permanence and solidity that the Public Trust would have wanted to convey to its clients.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fearn, Stanley

Stanley Fearn was a contemporary of Gary Young and at one time was in partnership with Gary Young and Austin Quick. Fearn's work is distinguished for his houses in the English Vernacular style.

Stanley W. Fearn (1887-1976) was a British-born, Wellington based architect who had a long career spanning a large part of the 20th century and incorporating a wide range of styles. He was still working as late as the 1960s. Most of his work was domestic but he designed a range of buildings, both in the capital, where he designed over 70 buildings, and further afield. In Wellington he is best known for the William Booth Memorial Training College in Aro Street (1913), which he designed with Austen Quick. This building won the first ever gold medal of the NZ Institute of Architects in 1927. His other Wellington buildings included Cambridge Pharmacy (1932) and the Dominion Arcade (1959).

Among his houses was the Frederic Wallis House, Lower Hutt (1927), the grand country house Rototawai, near Featherston (1929), as well as houses in Hobson Street, Thorndon. He was involved in the rebuilding of Napier and Hastings after the Hawkes Bay earthquake and among his surviving designs is the former Bestall's Building, Napier (1932). His son Detmar was also an architect.

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

Phillips, Eric

Phillips was a junior draughtsman with the well-established Napier architectural firm of C T Natusch and Sons before World War 1. He then trained in Britain during the war and attended classes at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. Returning to New Zealand in 1918 he set up practice and later established the partnership of Davies, Phillips and Chaplin.

Phillips is remembered for the Public Trust Building, Napier (1921-22) which, although damaged, was one of the very few survivors of the 1931 earthquake.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Architect: 1921 - Hyland & Phillips

1931 - Stanley W. Fearn

Classical Doric Style with a giant Doric order of columns. The main entrance on Tennyson Street is characterised by large circular bronze plaques to either side, and a repetition of the circle motif on the entrance-way surround, surmounted by the coat of arms of the New Zealand Government in Bronze. The window spaces are large with small panes set within metal bars and the top storey is demarcated by wide spandrels featuring the circle motif flanked by rectangles and topped by repeated antae..

Notable Features

Bronze plaques and coat of arms; wooden entrance doors.

Construction Dates

1921 - 1922

1931 -
Earthquake damaged building

1931 -
Strengthening repairs; brick panels replaced by reinforced concrete

1982 - 1983
Interior renovations

Completion Date

21st November 2002

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Information Sources

Daily Telegraph

Daily Telegraph

16 December 1931

McGregor, 1998

Robert McGregor, The Hawke's Bay Earthquake, New Zealand's Greatest Natural Disaster, Art Deco Trust, Napier, 1998

Thornton, 1996

Geoffrey Thornton, Cast in Concrete: Concrete Construction in New Zealand 1850-1939, Auckland, 1996

Vennell, 1973

C. W. Vennell, A Century of Trust, a history of the New Zealand Public Trust Office, 1873-1973, Auckland, 1973

Other Information

A fully referenced version 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.