Napier's streets, like many in New Zealand, were too narrow for the gaining in popularity of motor cars in the 1920s. The lack of land in Napier was due to being surrounded by lagoons and swamps, and streets were narrower than most other locations throughout New Zealand.

Widening had begun in 1929, on the upper part of Emerson St, in the central business district.

After the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, with most of the business district levelled, Napier took the opportunity to further widen streets in its central business district.

Photographer A B Hurst had built a new building in Emerson St in 1930, and was one of the first building owners to have given up 10 feet (3.2m) of his street frontage to widen the street.


After the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, during which A B captured hundreds of photos recording the disaster, he was part of the Napier Reconstruction Committee formed in July 1931, which worked closely with commissioners John Barton and Lachlan Campbell, who replaced the Napier Borough Council until 1933.  (Such was the public confidence in the Napier Reconstruction Committee that 11 of the 13 men, including A B Hurst were elected to Napier Borough Council in 1933 after commissioner control had ended.)

A B was asked in July 1931 to join a town planning committee set up by commissioner John Barton to provide advice on the "economic complications" of the plan for the town's streets. His task was to negotiate and obtain the consent of all property owners who would be affected by street widening and service lanes (to the back of buildings). A B had done this in 1929 for the Emerson St widening.

Each property owner had to be visited and those who wanted compensation noted, and the estimated cost of buying the required land.

In a speech given to Tennyson St building owners around August 1931, he spoke of the street being the location of most of Napier's professional and offices. There appears to be resistance from the owners of property on Tennyson St, when A B scolded them, "I personally think that you business men will be taking a very big risk of being left badly if you do not fall into line and widen your street".

The advantages of widening your street, said A B were "better facilities for moving traffic, restrictions on standing traffic will not be so rigid as in narrow streets, more light and space, provides room for some form of street beautification, buildings added with the idea of adding beauty to the town cannot be seen in narrow streets and fire risk is less".

A B told the business owners that the commissioners were given statutory power to take land for street widening if they had to, but "it has been decided that the better way is to negotiate with owners".

He reported to them that in other parts of the town land was "being given free of cost in almost every instance".

Service lanes to connect Emerson St with Tennyson and Dickens Sts were planned. AB gave some of his own land behind his building – free of charge, for a service lane

The rebuilding "co-operation", said A B, was the key to achieving "the most beautiful and safest town in New Zealand".

A B defined co-operation to the assembled men by saying it wasn't pooling their property, nor did it mean creation of a "uniform building to cover certain areas from which pieces of the building are handed over to individual owners". What is meant, he continued, was "harmony of design, so that the finished buildings will have enough difference to be interesting and undivided to a degree, but at the same time the whole effect will be harmonious both in style and architecture and particularly in colour – as colour will play a very big part in the beauty of Napier's future buildings".  How prophetic and true was this statement by A B Hurst.

Reflecting the trends of the time A B said, "Colour is typical of modern life – we use more colour in our clothes, in our homes, and furnishing – even our cars are more colourful".

"If colours are to be used liberally, they will have to be carefully used – we do not want buildings screaming at each other – harmony is the key note."

As to building styles, he favoured Spanish Mission and "plain modern", (which is likely to be Art Deco as we know it now) and both these styles he said, "mix splendidly".

"The future Napier needs 10 feet of your land for a wider Tennyson St – will you meet that need"? asked A B in closing his speech.

In February 1932, two members of the Town Planning Board, S Blakely and J Mawson heard three objections to land being taken for widening.

The Napier Fire Board objected losing 10 feet from its Tennyson St frontage would make it difficult to recondition their building.  The Town Board disallowed the objections.

Compensation was paid to one owner of £107 (2018: $12,600) for loss of land in the Tennyson St widening. Others that gave land, did at the gentle urging of A B Hurst.

The commissioners recorded in December 1932, under the various authoritative acts of Parliament to record the widening of Tennyson St by 10 feet from Hastings St to Clive Square. In January 1933, this was extended from Hastings St to Hershell St. It was also recorded the required for splayed (opened) building corners at the intersection of Tennyson and Hastings Sts.

A B Hurst was a visionary. He foresaw buildings with attractive facades, and the use of colour on them.  His skill in negotiating meant most were happy to give a strip of land of their frontages as a gift to Napier.

Limited, signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell St South, Hastings for $65.

Michael Fowler is taking Art Deco and 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake tours around the Hastings CBD during Art Deco Festival from February 13-16. Book at online iticket or the Art Deco Centre in Tennyson St.