In 1963, architect Guy Natusch of Napier drew up plans for a wool exchange for the Hawke's Bay Woolbrokers Association.
Designed to fit at the junction of Marine Pde and Byron St, the wool exchange building would be purpose-built for wool auctions.
Guy Natusch said in January 2020, "It was the only auditorium in Napier designed to a university standard and a place where the wool buyers had to be able to hear a pin drop, with the tiered seating giving complete visibility for everyone."
In 1993 Natusch said, "I was very happy with it, because it was a wedge-shaped section and the auditorium was a wedge shape, so it sat happily upon it. The style is a good example of 1960s architecture, with its concrete blocking reinforced concrete frame and aluminium windows.
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"It threatened to be ugly but was helped by the accessways which opened up voids and spaces in the building's shape.
"I enjoy it because its effective and [the clients] did not want to spend lots of money on extravagant finishes."
There was a public gallery behind the wool buyers' seats.
Visibility of the Norfolk pines and Bluff Hill was achieved through glass from the upper gallery.
As was the custom then of allowing smoking inside, each wool buyer had their own ashtray set flush in the bench, and they sat in comfort with individual chairs, which of course were upholstered in woollen fabric.
To keep out traffic noise, air conditioning was installed – a rare addition to such buildings in the early 1960s.
Natusch requested the saving of a pohutakawa tree on-site, and the contractors Wiig Brothers and Whyte Limited insured the tree for £250 (2019: $11,000). The tree, however, nearly came to grief when almost accidentally set alight.
The wool exchange was opened in May 1964 by the Minister of Agriculture, Brian Tallboys, and broadcast live by local radio station 2YZ.
In 1993, when one of his creations ‒ the Napier War Memorial Hall - was being altered, he offered his thoughts on alteration and demolition of buildings, which he believed could be justified for protection.
He was disappointed to see the demolition of St Paul's Cathedral in the 1950s and strongly opposed this: "Napier wanted to be cleared of the last of the relics of the earthquake. That's a pity. We lost a lot of our history".
It would be with some irony that Guy Natusch, who could be described as a "voice in the wilderness" for the protection of Napier's heritage buildings, would be subject to this with his own creations in the decades to come.
His design of the Napier War Memorial Hall was one he was most proud of "as it made a statement first and is an amenities hall second".
The alterations which started in 1993 of the Memorial Hall, Natusch believed, "misses the crisp, tidy lines of the original". He offered his opinion then that "the city council, in its wisdom did what any city council invariably does – if they see a chance to make some money, they disregard the criteria on which the building was built".
As opposed to the War Memorial, the wool exchange was "function over form".
The Hawke's Bay Woolbrokers Association had stopped its use an auction centre by 1998,
and the site was bought by the Napier City Council.
Upon hearing of the plans to demolish the wool exchange for what would become Te Pania Hotel, Guy approached a senior design staff member of Napier City Council suggesting that the building could be part of the new development, and this may require an adjoining section was purchased.
Guy reflected in January 2020 that they didn't want to know.
He firmly believes that it is "the responsibility of architects to refuse commissions if they are party to demolition of a worthy building. I believe the architects of Te Pania should have stood firm."
A case was being prepared by Historic Places Trust for the wool exchange's retention but in the end, it was too late to be used.
The demolition of the wool exchange took place in 2001 and the foundations were laid for the new hotel were laid soon after, with it opening in 2002.
Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history. During Art Deco Festival he will be taking guided tours around the Hastings CBD. Book at the Hastings I-site.