Visit New Zealand’s Art Deco City
You will swear you have stepped into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, old sport. After the New Zealand town of Napier was destroyed by earthquake in 1931, it was re-built in the Art Deco style of architecture — and lovingly preserved.
Early jazz and bathtub gin. Vintage Fords and feathery boas. While all of these conjure up the era between the world wars, few things bring the period to life quite the way an Art Deco building does.
Art Deco architecture took the world by storm in the 1920s and 1930s. With its clean lines, geometric shapes and distinctive motifs — particularly the sunburst — it exuded modernity and optimism. New York’s Chrysler Building, the facades of Miami Beach’s historic hotels and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto are all good examples of the style.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in all things Art Deco, one of the best destinations on the planet isn’t a big city — many of them knocked down their Art Deco buildings years ago to build glass skyscrapers. Head instead to Napier, New Zealand.
Today, Napier is a charming city of about 60,000 people in the heart of the Hawke’s Bay winegrowing region. But at 10:47 a.m. on February 3, 1931, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale devastated Napier and the surrounding region on the east coast of the North Island. Between the quake and the subsequent fires, most of Napier’s buildings were destroyed. When it came time to rebuild, many residents chose the popular Art Deco style.
Scores of those structures — from hotels and office buildings to shops and homes — have been lovingly preserved. There are still so many that New Zealand’s government has asked UNESCO to designate Napier’s central core a World Heritage Site.
With or without an official stamp of approval, Napier is a uniquely lovely spot to visit. A great place to start your explorations is the Marine Parade, a waterfront road lined with Art Deco and Queen Anne homes and shops. Have your camera ready to photograph the Veronica Sunbay, an arched arcade overlooking the ocean. The current structure is a 1991 replica of the 1934 original.
From there, head into the central business district along Tennyson or Emerson street. (Many of Napier’s downtown streets are named after writers, including Byron, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Carlyle.) Almost every building will catch your eye with an appealing transom, roofline or window detail. Even many of the vintage signs have been preserved.
Stop into the offices of the Art Deco Trust, where you can buy books about the region’s architectural history or book a tour—you can see the city with a keen guide on foot, by bike, by bus or in a vintage car.
Not enough Art Deco for you? Plan to visit Napier during GEON Art Deco Weekend (February 13 to 17, 2013), when the whole place tries to turn itself into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Hundreds of octogenarian Fords and Chryslers purr along the streets, and people dressed in tuxedos and flapper frocks spend the weekend enjoying dinner dances and vintage aircraft shows. It’s all Gatsby, old sport.