Historic building restored for modern apartments

By Doug Laing

A 97-year-old building thought to have been New Zealand's first soldiers' club is being restored as much as possible to its original state in a development expected to comprise the biggest apartment block on Napier's Marine Parade.

The retention of the heritage-protected club, built from publicly raised funds in 1916, during World War I, has been confirmed by Lotus Marine Parade Ltd, which is planning a five-level block of 21 apartments next door.

The company principal Byron Duncan, of Whirinaki, bought the Louis Hay-designed club 18 years ago, when it was known as the Hairy Cactus Restaurant, and has consulted extensively with the Historic Places Trust to ensure the protection of the building which was for years a private boarding establishment known as the Spa Hotel.

In more recent times it was known as Mussel Boys, a restaurant.

He added the neighbouring sites, and has been planning the apartment development for several years, hiring heritage-site specialist and award-winning architect Malcolm Perry, known for his work on the Quest Hotel in Dickens St, Napier.

The project was notable for its protection of the frontage of another soldiers' club, the former Napier RSA building.

Mr Duncan says the history and importance of the Marine Parade building is surprisingly little-known and understood, with few people appreciating its age and its survival of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, while other buildings nearby collapsed.

Occasionally there has been some disbelief that it was built 15 years before the disaster.

He is spending at least $100,000 on revitalising the building, including the prominent steps and entrance off the Parade, and interior work including restoring a fireplace to its original appearance and other work from floor to ceiling.

Mr Perry, a Wellington architect now working from a base in France, said particular emphasis is given in the design of the apartment block to the Art Deco culture of Napier and preserving the integrity of the Soldiers Club.

Non-reflective natural products are being used to complement Bluff Hill to the rear, and rounded roof forms, pastel colours on the curved walls, and steel street fencing contribute to the building' s Art Deco association, he says.

The two-storey reinforced concrete building is said to have been ahead of its time for 1916, amid a fundraising campaign by a committee including mayor John Vigor Brown.

A foundation stone was laid in front of huge crowds in the first Anzac Day commemorations held that year, before the club was built.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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