Francis Hicks had bought 101 acres (41 hectares) of land in 1871 on generous terms from Thomas Tanner, in what is now the centre of the Hastings central business district.

When Hicks heard the railway was coming his way, he gave 3.7ha of that land to the government for a railway reserve, on which was built a station and goods yard.

With the station on the edge of his property, he wasted no time in getting the remaining land surveyed into sections for sale.

The land on the corner facing the railway reserve and fronting Heretaunga St East (then Omahu Rd) was sold to Frederick Sutton in 1873, who opened Hastings' first hotel, the 22-room Railway Hotel, the next year.


At this point the Railway Hotel faced the railway reserve. This would change when the railways carved off a strip of their land directly in front of the hotel in the 1890s and leased it to shopkeepers to become Station St (now Russell St North). The government also built Hastings' first post office on this land.

In 1905, the Napier Brewing Company, the then owners of the Railway Hotel, wanted to build a larger one. At first they planned to build on land next to the post office (some locals know this as Poppelwell's Building) in Station St. They changed their mind and decided to shift the Railway Hotel there to act as a boarding house and rebuild on the old site.

After more indecision, they sold the Railway Hotel to be demolished for its timber and fittings.

A new hotel would be built on the original Railway Hotel site to the plans of Hastings architect C A Vautier, and Napier Brewery put the building out for tender in 1905.

However, no tenders were received. Pat Gleeson of the Napier Brewing Company, decided to project manage the 157-room, five-storey hotel build himself with the architect.

The project would have difficulties throughout its construction, which caused delays. Bricklayers were hard to find, so were bricks, and then plasterers.

Serious injuries occurred to workers and members of the public with falling bricks the main culprit. No safety veranda was provided over the footpath.

The scaffolding, which was up for two years and blocked the footpath, was a major source of annoyance for the townspeople as they were forced to walk in slush and mud on the unsealed Heretaunga St.


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When the building started to take shape – or "the skyscraper" as the Hastonians called it, the shop owners on the opposite side of the street to the hotel were not happy with the "lofty structure intercepting the drying rays of the mid-winter sun".

This sped up the Hastings Borough Council's road sealing plan as that part of Heretaunga St became very muddy.

The opening of the Grand Hotel took place in June 1907 and it advertised its fire and earthquake soundness – of which it was anything but.

A man told me in 2006 that as children they would play behind their father's work, which backed onto the Grand Hotel. They could pull out bricks and put them back in again easily (despite a telling-off from their father) because the lime-stone mortar had disintegrated.

Difficulties in securing competent bricklayers meant the bricks were not laid correctly in parts of the hotel.

By the time of the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake, the front façade was supporting itself by its own weight as the mortar had flaked, and mortar had gone in other parts of the building as well.

Proprietor Jack Ross was stocktaking liquor in the basement cellar of the Grand when the quake hit, causing the façade to immediately collapse. He would be trapped and not survive.

The violence of the jolt would turn the Grand's bricks into lethal projectiles which killed up to 29 people in the surrounding area, and injured hundreds,

Aftershocks would progressively cause the building to collapse over the next 10 hours, until a fire from the next-door building caused what was left of it to be destroyed.

A small temporary bar of corrugated iron and wood was constructed on a site by pushing away ruins, because the liquor licence would be lost if they stopped trading for more than 14 days in those times.

An Art Deco hotel was planned as a replacement, but it was difficult to secure enough funding for this so a modest replacement still called the Grand Hotel was built in 1934.

This Grand operated a bar until 1966, when it closed and Celtic Rugby team members sang Auld Lang Syne on its last trading night.

Since this date, the Grand has continuously offered accommodation in one form or another and is now a backpackers lodge, Rotten Apple Backpackers.

• Coming soon: Historic Hawke's Bay by Michael Fowler. A collection of his best articles, 2016-2018. Email for pre-order information.

• Michael Fowler ( is a chartered accountant and contract researcher of Hawke's Bay's history.