Historical Significance or Value
The Borough Council Chambers have historical and social importance as the first, purpose-built building associated with municipal government in Napier. They were constructed in 1884, just nine years after the election of Napier's first Borough Council, which was elected to enable Napier to raise the finance for necessary public works. The Borough Council fostered the development of Napier, which achieved city status in 1950. The importance of this achievement, and the perception of Napier as a progressive settlement, was reflected in the Borough Council Chambers, which were 'updated' for the celebrations. The building has been little changed since this date, and it remains a reminder of Napier's growth and development throughout its 84-year history as Napier's administrative centre.
The Borough Council Chambers are also important as one of the few nineteenth century buildings to survive the Hawkes Bay earthquake of 1931, and as such, have some technological interest.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
Events: Municipal Government
The Borough Council Chambers building is the first purpose-built building associated with municipal government in Napier. As such, it is intimately associated with local government in the borough. Although constructed during a period of financial depression, the building was sufficient to meet the Council's needs for over 84 years.
The Borough Council Chambers are also associated with the establishment of Napier as a city. The building was 'updated' especially for the celebrations that marked the transition of the Council from a borough to a city council. The building has been little changed since this date, and remains a permanent reminder of Napier's growth and development.
Persons: Robert Lamb
The Borough Council Chambers were designed by English architect Robert Lamb (1834-1895), who arrived in Napier in 1879 and was employed by the Napier Borough Council between 1881 and 1883. The Borough Council Chambers may have been one of the last projects completed for the Council before Lamb's employment as the Board Architect for the Hawke's Bay Education Board. Interestingly, a number of Lamb's works survived the earthquake, although a the majority have since been lost to development. For instance, Lamb was responsible for Balquhidder House (Record Number 1174, Category II), and the now demolished St Patrick's Church (formerly Record Number 3420, Category I). Although modified, the Borough Council Chambers provides some insight into the nature of Lamb's work, while its survival during the Hawkes Bay earthquake reflects Lamb's great architectural and engineering abilities.
Mayors of Napier
The Borough Council Chambers provided office space for the 14 mayors of Napier who provided guidance and direction to its development between the crucial period between 1884 and 1968. (See Appendix 5 for a full list of mayor's, town clerks, and councillors of Napier between 1884-1968.)
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The Borough Council Chambers building has strong potential to educate the public on Napier's history. The building is a symbol of Napier's local government and development from its early years through to its attainment of city status. It provides a rare visual link with Napier's, pre-earthquake past.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
The Borough Council Chambers building has some rarity value. It is one of the few remaining examples of the work of Robert Lamb, and it is one of the few nineteenth century buildings in the city that survived the Hawkes Bay earthquake of 1931.
Ngati Kahungunu are the tangata whenua of the area extending from Mahia to the Wairarapa, this includes Napier city. The first non-Maori in the area were whalers, missionaries and other 'forerunners of permanent settlement'. Donald McLean, Chief Land Purchase Commissioner, purchased 265,000 acres of the Ahuriri Block, the Hapuku Block and the Mohaka Block in 1851. Alfred Dommet surveyed these blocks in 1854, and the first town sections went on sale on 5 April 1855. On 1 November 1858, when Hawke's Bay became a province with six districts and ten representatives, Napier became the provincial capital of the region.
By the 1870s, Napier had established itself as Hawke's Bay's leading town and, leaving behind a period of depression and war, it experienced vigorous, economic growth. Its rapid development exhausted the funds supplied by the Provincial Government, and prevented the undertaking of essential public works such as the completion of an efficient water supply, drainage, roads, and the reclamation of land required if the settlement was to expand. Private enterprise also failed to respond to meet these needs. On 29 July 1874, at a meeting held at the Provincial Council Chambers, a motion was passed with almost unanimous approval that would make Napier a municipality under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act 1867. This move would enable the township to elect a borough council, with considerable rating and borrowing powers. A petition, signed by 184 persons, was subsequently presented to Parliament and, on 29 November 1874, Napier took responsibility for its own progress and was officially proclaimed a borough.
On 18 January 1875, nine prosperous businessmen were elected onto Napier's first borough council. Robert Stuart, a sheep-farmer and former member of the Otago and Southland provincial councils, was elected mayor. From its offices in the Provincial Government Buildings at the foot of Shakespeare Road, the new Borough Council undertook some of the essential public works projects that had prompted its establishment. By the late 1870s, however, Napier experienced a downturn, partially prompted by a fall in wool prices, which was to last until the 1890s. During this period, all but essential services and projects undertaken by the Borough Council were severely curtailed. One exception was the construction of new council buildings in 1884.
The decision to construct the building was prompted by the Central Government's unexpected repossession of the Provincial Government Buildings, which had served as borough council offices since 1875. The Council was forced to move into temporary accommodation. By May 1884, a suitable site for new, purpose-built offices had been found on the corner of Tennyson Street, Herschell Street, and Marine Parade. An invitation to architects to submit designs for the proposed 'Corporation Offices and Hall' was published in the Daily Telegraph on 1 May 1884. The contract was won by English architect Robert Lamb, F.R.I.B.A (1834-1895), then employed as the Board architect by the Hawke's Bay Education Board. On 24 May 1884, Lamb invited builders to tender for the construction of the new offices. By late December the building was almost complete.
The new Council Chamber was used for the first time on 17 December 1884, and the newspaper reported that it was to be resplendently furnished for the occasion with 'green baize' and 'American cane seated chairs'. At that meeting, the mayor noted that 'when the chambers were perfectly finished, they would be an ornament to the town, they would be a set of chambers which no town in New Zealand need be ashamed'. The mayor was also careful to note that the construction of the building had not worsened the then shaky financial position of the council. The Daily Telegraph reported that:
'He [the mayor] could further say that not only had they been able to build those rooms and build that Town Hall and pay for it, but at the same time had been actually able to diminish their overdraft with the bank, so that they need not look at the extra expense, for they had been able to do it and reduce their expenditure at the same time'.
The final, finishing touches to the building were completed in early January 1885. These included the addition of a superscription '18 Council Chambers 84' over the public entrance to the Hall. The Daily Telegraph described the inscription as 'extraordinary' and noted that the lettering was uneven and that the top of the '4' had to be cut off to get it into place.
Constructed from timber, with a hipped roof of corrugated iron, the single storey building fronted Herschell Street, and Marine Parade, and its main façade faced south, towards Tennyson Street. The building had considerable aesthetic appeal. The Classically inspired architecture featured strong vertical and horizontal lines, created by the contrast of the weatherboards with the pilasters and the windows. Attention was drawn to key features of the building through the regulated use of circular, and semi-circular elements.
The Tennyson Street elevation featured an elaborate portico and entrance. The outer edges of the portico were marked by paired pilasters, which flanked the elaborate entrance into the council chambers. The entrance, accessed via a short flight of steps, was topped by large, segmentally curved pediment supported by pilasters. The use of the large, semi-circular lines over this entrance indicates that it was intended to be the main focal point of the building. The remainder of the Tennyson Street elevation was divided into three portions by two pilasters. At the centre of each portion was a sash window with 12 lights per portion. The Marine Parade elevation featured a second, centered portico, with a less elaborate entrance. A twelve light sash in a double hung window added interest to the walls on each side of the portico. The Herschell Street face featured a row of four of these windows.
The interior of the building was dominated by the large, rectangular council chambers, which were entered from Tennyson Street and oriented along Herschell Street. The large office of the mayor was located along the remains of the Tennyson Street side, and was divided from the rest of the building by a public corridor. On the other side of the corridor, and running along the centre of the building, were offices for the traffic inspector, the assistant town clerk, and the town clerk. The town clerk's office was accessed from the outside by the less elaborate entrance on Marine Parade. A large, open, general office was located on the north side.
From its new offices, the Council continued to supervise the development of Napier, which slowly began to recover from financial depression in the first decades of the twentieth century. Under the guidance of the then mayor John Vigor Brown (1854-1952), the Borough Council began to introduce new amenities and public works, including the salt-water baths, the children's paddling pool, the Municipal Theatre, a joint electricity and tramway system, and improved parks for recreation. Napier's population again began to increase, and in 1924 the Borough celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of municipal government. During this period, minor alterations were made to the Tennyson Street elevation of the Borough Council Building. Two of the three windows on the eastern side were removed, and a door and a larger window were inserted into their place. The alterations provided an entrance into the main offices of Tennyson Street, but altered the symmetry of the original design.
On 3 February 1931 at 10.46am, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Napier. In the two and a half minutes that it lasted 256 people lost their lives, huge tracts of land rose out of the sea, and much of the built environment in Napier and the wider Hawke's Bay was destroyed. The earthquake changed the face of Napier, which had been a small seaside town, with a picturesque harbour and Victorian buildings comprising the commercial centre. Many of the buildings not damaged by the earthquake were destroyed by a fire blaze that began in a chemist shop in Hastings Street and quickly engulfed the town, as the water mains had broken in the earthquake, preventing the fire brigade from controlling the fire. The fire burned for 36 hours and the ruins smouldered for days. The day after the earthquake Napier was evacuated and temporary camps were set up on the beachfront and at the racecourse until people were able to safely repair or rebuild their homes. The earthquake and fire destroyed most of the brick and stone buildings, and wrecked many of the wooden buildings.
One of the very few buildings to withstand the disaster was the Borough Council Chambers. The building's timber construction assisted its survival during the quake, and a strong easterly wind, which fanned the fire west from Hastings Street, protected it from the subsequent fires. Although the building remained standing, and was occupied by council staff after the quake, it did not escape entirely unscathed. Some of the building's foundations had sunk, resulting in a bowed floor in the council chamber. The Borough Council itself fared worse as, immediately after the earthquake, most of its powers were delegated to a Government Commission. Full municipal government was not restored until April 1933.
As Napier began to recover from the earthquake, it experienced a minor building boom, and much of the borough was reconstructed in the architectural style now known as Art Deco. Land adjacent to the Borough Council Chambers, for instance, was occupied by the Hawke's Bay Art Gallery and Museum, which now includes exhibitions on the earthquake. The Borough Council Chambers were themselves altered slightly during this period, as the realignment of the streets surrounding the structure made it necessary to close off the original entrance into the office of the town clerk.
The land that rose out of the sea during the earthquake provided the necessary space for Napier to expand. In 1950, around the 75th anniversary of its borough status, Napier was elevated to city status, its population having reached the necessary number of 20,000. The then Governor-General, Bernard Cyril Freyberg (1889-1963) proclaimed the Borough of Napier to be a city on 18 March 1950. The Borough Council then became the Napier City Council, and residents of Napier became citizens. The major civic occasion was celebrated in grand style with festivities that culminated in a large street parade on 18 March 1950. The Borough Council Chambers themselves were updated especially for the occasion. The key change, which 'converted the old wooden building into a modern, attractive structure', involved the application of stucco to the exterior. This, together with the removal of the majority of the building's curved decorative elements, gave the building a more Georgian appearance. References to original pilasters were retained, as was the decoration over the minor entrance on Marine Parade.
The former Borough Council Chambers building, which became the Napier City Council building in 1950, remained the centre of local government until 1968. For a number for years prior to the construction of the Centre, the Council offices had proved too small for the expanding number of staff. Additions had been made to the building in 1957, on the Marine Parade elevation, yet these proved insufficient for the Council's needs. The following year an architect was appointed to design the new structure. The new council offices, known as the Civic Administration Centre, were officially opened on 23 September 1968.
Although the Council moved out of the original Council Chambers, it retained ownership of the building. The structure was then used for a variety of purposes, including the storage of archival material owned by the adjacent Museum. The building, which by 2005 had stood for 121 years, is now under threat from that same Museum, which requires space in which to expand.
Located on a triangular portion of land in the heart of Napier city, the former Borough Council Chambers front Herschell Street, and Marine Parade, while its main façade face south, towards Tennyson Street. The fourth elevation is hidden from view by the Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery located on an adjacent site.
The single storey structure has a roof of corrugated iron, and retains its original hipped roofline established in 1884. The building, designed by architect Robert Lamb, was originally clad in weatherboards, and featured strong vertical and horizontal lines, created by the contrast of the weatherboards with the pilasters and the windows. Attention was drawn to key features of the building through the regulated use of circular, and semi-circular elements. To celebrate the elevation of Napier to city status in 1950, the exterior of the building was clad in stucco, and the majority of the original decorative features were removed. The building has been little altered since this date. Emphasis on the vertical was retained through the impression of the original pilasters on the Tennyson Street elevation, and reference to the Lamb's emphasis on circular elements is evident above the minor entrance on Marine Parade. The alterations gave the building a much simpler appearance, making it much more Georgian in style.
The main elevation on Tennyson Street, features a porch that originally led into the Council Chambers. The remainder of the Tennyson Street elevation includes a second, minor entrance, and windows. Two of the three windows are the twelve light sash windows from 1884. The Marine Parade elevation features what was originally a second, centred portico, with a less elaborate entrance. The entrance has since been covered over, and now includes one of the building's original double hung window with a twelve-light top sash. The walls on each side of what was the portico each originally featured one of these windows. While the window on the side closest to Tennyson Street remains in place, the window opposite was removed to make way for a plain, oblong extension in 1957. The Herschell Street elevation, the least altered of the visible elevations, retains its row of four windows, although the twelve-light sashes have been removed.
The original layout of the building remains apparent. The interior of the building is dominated by what were the large, rectangular council chambers, which were entered from Tennyson Street and oriented along Herschell Street. The floor of the chambers was damaged when the foundations sunk during the earthquake and it still retains a slight curve. Despite this, the Council Chambers remain in close to their original condition. The large office of the mayor was located along the remains of the Tennyson Street side, and was divided from the rest of the building by a public corridor. On the other side of the corridor, and running along the centre of the building, were offices for the traffic inspector, the assistant town clerk, and the town clerk. A large, open, general office was located on the north side. Much of this area has since been modified to accommodate the changing needs of the building's occupants.
Alteration to Tennyson Street elevation.
Earthquake damages Council Chamber floor.
Modifications to Marine Parade entrance.
75th Anniversary - modifications to exterior.
Relocated 27 July 2011 to a car park in Byron Street, Napier.
Relocated to Byron Street, Napier, to make way for the new Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery.
The building rests on concrete piles, is constructed around a timber frame, and has a corrugated iron roof. The exterior is clad in weatherboards covered with stucco on wire mesh.
1st January 2005
Report Written By
M. D. N. Campbell, Story of Napier, 1874-1974; Footprints Along the Shore, Napier City Council, Napier 1975
1 May 1883, in E. Homes (2002), 'Robert Lamb F.R.I.B.A, The Napier, New Zealand Years 1879-1895', unpublished manuscript, p.44.
Hawke's Bay Education Board Minutes
Hawke's Bay Education Board Minutes, 13 January 1883, in E. Homes, 'Robert Lamb F.R.I.B.A, The Napier, New Zealand Years 1879-1895', unpublished manuscript, 2002
E. Homes, 'Robert Lamb F.R.I.B.A, The Napier, New Zealand Years 1879-1895', unpublished manuscript, 2002
J. Longshaw,'The Earth Moved: Napier Earthquake 1931', Kiwi Herald, 2004 http://www.kiwiherald.com (downloaded 23.12.2004)
Peter Shaw and Peter Hallet, Art Deco Napier: Styles of the Thirties, Auckland 1987.
A fully referenced Registration 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.