Historic Hawke's Bay: Grand survivor soon to fall



The old Caledonian Hotel in Hastings Street, Napier (pictured after the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake), is another heritage building set for demolition early this year.

Like many early wooden buildings, the first 15-room Caledonian Hotel - built in 1878 by Archibald Bryson and operated by licensee Robert Bristy in October that year - succumbed to fire, burning down in June 1906, when an occupant left a candle burning in their room.

When the new 46-room Caledonian Hotel opened in 1908, it was constructed in Ferro-concrete (concrete with embedded steel) which was used to prevent fire destroying the building.

But it also had obvious benefits during the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, as the hotel survived both fire and quake.

Over the years, when the building was a hotel, many tragedies occurred (not uncommon in hotels then) including suicides of hotel staff, an accident causing death during construction, and patrons falling to their deaths while intoxicated - either out windows or inside the hotel.

However, the worst moment in the history of the hotel was on December 30, 1944, when a man shot and killed a hotel porter with a pistol and then ran outside and killed a 14-year-old boy cycling past. Three others were seriously injured.

The police engaged in a "gangster-style" shoot-out down Hastings Street with the gunman before wounding and apprehending him. The man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment, with the jury taking only 40 minutes to decide his fate.

A happier moment in the Caledonian's history was in 1928, when the hotel was used as a prop for Rudall Hayward's community film series Natalie of Napier.

A hotel porter - unaware of the filming, and who saw the attractive leading lady Florence Carpenter outside - rushed into a scene being filmed to grab her bags before anyone else could, and quickly ushered her inside, leaving the two male actors frozen with amazement and the hundreds of extras in fits of laughter.

Michael Fowler is taking tours around Hastings during Art Deco Weekend looking at architecture and the effect of the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake. Book at www.artdeconapier.com

- Hawkes Bay Today

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