When Alfred Domett planned the town of Napier in 1854-55, he reserved an area for a market reserve, which was likely intended as a market square.
In 1874, the Napier Borough Council built and leased out the Criterion Hotel on the southern part of the Market Reserve facing Hastings, Emerson and Market Sts.
By 1893, as well as the Criterion Hotel, the northern part of the Market Reserve bordering Hastings, Tennyson and Market Sts had buildings which contained Hallenstein Brothers, Freedman's City Saloon, Napier Park Racing Club, Charitable Aid Board, Bishop's Boot Palace, Crerar's Stationery, Murray Roberts & Co and Macky, Logan, Stein & Co's warehouse.
The Napier Borough Council advertised all of these properties' leases in 1873 with 35-year terms beginning March 7, 1874.
Due to the state of the buildings on the Market Reserve in 1930, the borough council discussed rebuilding them, including the Criterion Hotel.
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However, the borough council decided "that as the licensing laws stand today it was too precarious for a local authority to expend a considerable sum of money in building a licensed hotel".
Therefore the council went to the ratepayers with a poll to borrow £29,000 (2019: $3 million) for a building on the northern part of the Market Reserve.
The poll of ratepayers in Napier took place on December 17, 1930.
Plans for the Market Reserve building were finalised a week before the devastating 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake after ratepayers had sanctioned the loan.
The fires resulting from the February 3 earthquake destroyed not only the Criterion Hotel, but all of the other buildings on the Market Reserve.
A week after the earthquake, it was announced that Napier Borough Council was going ahead with its plans to build a ferro-concrete block of shops and offices on the Market Reserve.
The Market Reserve section was the first to be cleared of its ruins.
Rebuilding their Criterion Hotel would prove to be a little more complex.
When the borough council was relieved of its duties when government appointed commissioners, J S Barton and L B Campbell took over, they announced in March 1931 the £29,000 loan secured before the earthquake was still available.
Of concern was that Napier would not rebuild, and Hastings would grow as a result. The two commissioners needed a building up fast in the central business district to restore confidence to the people of Napier.
J S Barton said, "If we can get straight on with work it will be one of the best things we can do to encourage others to come back to this part of town."
The choice of J S Barton as a commissioner was a good choice by the government – not only was he a qualified lawyer, but also a chartered accountant. Together with L B Campbell – an engineer - Napier owes much of its recovery to their untiring work in the two years after the earthquake.
The Market Reserve building would be financed by the £29,000 loan repayable over 28.5 years in 37 half-yearly debenture repayments. It would not be financed from rates because rental revenue would cover the repayments.
J S Barton was however concerned with making the repayments during the construction stage of the building due to Napier's chronic financial state.
If we can get straight on with work it will be one of the best things we can do to encourage others to come back to this part of town.
Rene Natusch, who was the head of the Associated Architects formed to design the rebuild of Napier, and his brother Stanley, would create a new design for the Market Reserve building.
To let the people of Napier know the city would be rebuilt, Rene changed the specification for the building from a welded steel frame to a riveted one. Although riveting was becoming an out-of-date practice, the process made plenty of noise and sent out signals as to the progress of Napier.
So among the barrenness of Napier, the Market Reserve rose as a symbol of Napier's rebuild.
The New Zealand manager of Critalls, an English window firm, decided to replace the steel windows with more expensive and quality bronze ones as a gift to Napier and to set the tone of the rebuild.
During 1932 the Criterion Hotel was rebuilt, and its financing details were a little more complicated.
A syndicate of Napier businessmen would lease the hotel, and an insurance company would finance the rebuild for the Napier Borough Council.
The insurance company advanced £20,000 ($2.3m) to the borough council, who received in return life insurance policies on the lives of the members of the syndicate. The syndicate would form a company called Criterion Limited and would lease the hotel for 21 years at a rate of 6 per cent of the loan, plus the amounts of the life insurance policies. At the end of the lease the hotel would revert back to the Napier Borough Council who would receive £8,000 ($823,000) in bonuses on the policies.
The Criterion Hotel, which is Napier's best example of a Spanish Mission building, was opened in 1933.
Napier City Council no longer has any ownership of the Market Reserve.
• Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.