The former Napier War Memorial Hall on Marine Parade had its beginnings in April 1939 when mayor Mr T W Hercock wanted to commemorate New Zealand's centenary in 1940 with a project of significance - which was decided as a winter garden.

The outbreak of World War II put this on hold, as well as another project - a war memorial community centre planned for the Marine Parade.

After the war had finished both projects were dropped in 1947 in favour of constructing a War Memorial Hall.

New mayor E R Spriggs began fundraising for it, and public donations of £15,000 were received in under 12 weeks.

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The £6000 in the New Zealand Centennial fund was transferred; a Government grant of £21,000 was received for the project (after the design of the building was approved for a Government subsidy in 1952) and the Napier City Council gave £10,000.

The War Memorial Hall would be "dedicated to the memory of more than 300 members of the Napier Community who gave their lives in World War II".

A memorial bay was on the left-hand corner of the building's west front with the Roll of Honour and a perpetual Flame of Remembrance (which was put out frequently by youths, I am told).

Inside was a ballroom, concert hall, lounge, refreshment rooms and conference room. An aquarium was installed in the basement by the Napier City Council in 1958.

The opening of the Napier War Memorial Hall took place on July 14, 1957. Among the thousands of people attending the opening was the Minister of Internal Affairs, S W Smith (standing in for the ill Prime Minister, S G Holland), leader of the opposition Walter Nash, Napier Mayor Peter Tait and Napier Returned Services' Association (RSA) president, W H Shearer.

A prayer was led by the Reverend H C Mathews, who said "that those who lived today might remember that their lives had been brought at a price of great sacrifices to others, and he asked that the memorial should remain as a constant reminder of the sacrifice".

Mayor Peter Tait asked that the public "protect the building from vandalism or ill-use and we will remember forever that this is Napier's memorial to those 303 men who gave their lives".

Mr Shearer of the Napier RSA said "May this memorial, with its lovely background of sky and sea be to all that pass by a constant reminder of the great sacrifice and hard-won victory. We of the Returned Services' Association are members of a body existing to see that the ex-Serviceman is never forgotten".

In 1995 the Napier War Memorial Hall was reopened after renovations and the Roll of Honour (which was expanded to include a wider population area such as Taradale, Meeanee and Bay View, and other pre-and post-World War II conflicts) and Perpetual Flame was moved inside to the foyer.

The next major renovations of the Napier War Memorial Hall were completed in 2017 with the name changed to Napier Conference Centre. The Roll of Honour and Perpetual Flame were not reinstated in the building.

* Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is a Chartered Accountant and heritage officer at the Art Deco Trust.