In May 1909, Napier Mayor John Vigor Brown had discussions with a theatrical agent, Bert Royle, about Napier building a large municipal theatre. Excited by the idea, Mayor Brown immediately summoned his councillors for an impromptu meeting to discuss the possibility.

All agreed that Napier should have a grand theatre, and ratepayers would be polled for approval to raise the finance. The site of the theatre would be an acre of land in Clive Square, fronting Dickens Street.

The poll of ratepayers was successful, and also in agreeing to locate the building in Clive Square. The next step was for parliament to pass a bill to give the formal authority, and John Vigor Brown, who was not only the Napier's mayor but MP as well, sponsored the bill.

The clause in the bill relating to using an acre of Napier's reserve land in Clive Square however was not passed, as there was concern throughout New Zealand that too much reserve land was being built on.

A new site was found in Tennyson Street, and Melbourne architect William Pitt arrived in Napier during1911 to design the building.

A loan was raised of £31,000 ($4.9 million today) to pay for the land and buildings.


The new theatre, which opened on 12 November 1912 to a production of A Greek Slave, seated 1,400 people, and was equipped to show moving pictures.

While the building looked grand in an Italian Renaissance-style, it was not constructed well-enough to survive the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake and was almost totally wrecked. The replacement (present) building did not open until 1938.

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