Napier menswear businessman Tom Parker announced in 1936 he was willing to donate £1000 (2018: $113,000) towards the cost of an electric fountain for Napier, which he wanted to be known as the Tom Parker Fountain.

He chose the site on Marine Parade.

The Napier Borough Council willingly accepted his gift and would contribute towards the additional costs required.

Napier Chamber of Commerce president L C Rolls said of Tom, "I am sure it speaks volumes for his interest in the town on Napier that he should take this action. It shows the calibre of the man and provides an example for others".

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Great excitement was had by the generous donation and mayor Charles Morse said: "People will come from all over the North Island to see the Tom Parker Fountain, which will be the only one of its kind in New Zealand".

The fountain's apparatus was purchased from New York and arrived in New Zealand about November, 1936. It arrived in Napier on November 27 and was stored at the Faraday St power house.

The apparatus was described as having "huge lamps bearing a resemblance to searchlights, circular rings, and jets and nozzles figure prominently in an almost bewildering array of apparatus, the assembly of which was to be commenced as soon as the concrete base of the fountain was completed".

On the Marine Parade site chosen, a concrete base to contain the apparatus, and a surrounding pond were constructed during August to October 1936, using labour under the Government's relief unemployment scheme.

The Tom Parker Fountain's completion date of December came under threat in late August when the relief workers refused to work unless their weekly hours were limited to 40.

At that time, in order to relieve unemployment, the Department of Labour required Napier Borough Council to have 80 per cent of the men employed on the fountain's construction as relief workers.

Mayor Morse managed to negotiate that percentage down to 50 per cent, so that other men could be employed to continue the fountain's construction in time for its opening.

In order to run the electric fountain, power was connected from a main on the corner of Browning and Herschell streets.

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The December opening date came under serious threat when on assembly in late November it was found some parts were missing. Fortunately, these turned up in early December.

Napier retailers became quite upset when they heard the fountain's opening was to be held on Christmas Eve at 10pm, after stores closed.

They thought it would interfere with the volume of shopping as crowds would assemble before the shops closed.

A deputation of them waited on Mayor Morse and made a request to open the fountain a day earlier. This was agreed.

The opening ceremony was held at the Sound Shell as the area surrounding the fountain could not contain the thousands expected.

Cabled wiring was laid to enable the fountain to be turned on from the Sound Shell.

The weather was not good for the opening, and apart from those braving the rain many on the hill watched in the comfort of their homes. Others stayed in their cars to watch the switch-on.

Tom Parker received loud applause when he took to the stage and, on touching a button, "caused the fountain machinery to operate and the spray to commence on its cycle of ever-changing colours and effects".

Mayor Morse spoke and thanked Tom Parker by saying: "There is no doubt about it that in the future we will hold the most pleasant memories of Mr Parker and the thought which actuated him in making this wonderful donation to Napier City. We now have here something that will provide a living memory of his generosity."

The last word went to Tom: "I can only say that if the people of Napier and the surrounding district derive as much pleasure out of this donation as I did in making it, I shall be amply rewarded. I hope the fountain will be a thing of beauty and a joy forever."

Eighty-two years later, most of us would agree it is.

• Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is a writer and speaker of Hawke's Bay's history.