Napier deco building echoed with 60s music

5:00 AM Saturday February 11, 2017 True Commercial

The Art Deco century old building at 88-94 Dickens St. Photo / Supplied

A century-old retail building for sale in the heart of Napier’s Art Deco District, was once home to renowned Gaiety Theatre and Top Hat music venues

Bayleys Hawke’s Bay and Bayleys Auckland are jointly marketing the historic building, at 88-94 Dickens St, which will be auctioned on March 8.

The property for sale is featured in Bayleys’ latest Total Property portfolio and comprises a 1430sq m two-storey building on 911sq m of land zoned Inner-City Commercial.

Bayleys salespeople Paul Dixon and Carolyn Hanson describe the building as “a cultural treasure”, noting potential future uses may include retail, apartment and office space.

Dixon says three retail shops in the building generate an annual income of $75,855:

  • Turkish kebab takeaway operator Cafe Anatolia has a current lease expiring in 2019, with one further four-year right of renewal, occupying 471sq m and generating annual rent of $49,000.
  • The Kiwi Mancave collectables and memorabilia trader is on a current lease expiring in 2020, with two further two-year rights of renewal, occupying 220sq m of space and earning annual rent of $16,855.
  • Trainworld Ltd model train showroom, operating on a month-to-month lease occupies the upper level of the building and generating rent of $10,000 per annum.

Retirement-age tourists, folk keen to recall dancing the night away there, are regular visitors to the building.  “Back in the day this place was all about the music,” says Dixon.

“The Gaiety Theatre was built in 1912 and operated for three decades as a big band dance hall. Then the rock and roll era of the 1960s swung in and the venue was renamed the Top Hat,” he says.

Famous Kiwi artists to have taken the stage at the Top Hat included Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Ray Woolf, The Chicks, Alison Durbin, Tommy Adderley, Shane, Larry Morris, Dinah Lee, Frankie Rowles, The La De Das, and Teddy and the Bears.

“Changes to liquor licensing laws, allowing for hotel bars to extend their drinking hours and operate as entertainment venues, marked the beginning of the decline for crowd numbers attending Top Hat dances,” says Dixon.

In the 1970s the venue witnessed a variety of name changes such as the Silver Spade and Bananas becoming more of a nightclub than a live music venue. In the late 1980s it transformed into a trio of retail outlets including a model train showroom which converted the old ballroom dance floor into an extensive working display of miniature electric trains.

Art Deco

Dixon says the building is in the heart of Napier’s Art Deco city centre, the city’s primary retail strip.

It’s highly decorative facade was in a Spanish Mission style, with single-run lean-to veranda roofing sheltering the footpath underneath.

”The retail tenants in this part of Napier benefit from a high foot traffic count. Other businesses in the immediate vicinity include a web of cafes and restaurants adjacent to professional services companies and boutique retailers. Customers to all of these retailers and offices have handy access to the Dickens St carpark,” Dixon says.

“Within 88-94 Dickens Street, Cafe Anatolia has been serving up kebabs, burgers and fries since 2007 — an impressive record for a fast food retailer.”

Trainworld has been a tenant since the early 2000s and is known for its grand concrete stairwell leading up from the street entrance.

“The vast network of nearly 4km of model railways tracks, miniature locomotive engines and carriages, and hand-made landscapes upstairs is among the largest display of its type in New Zealand; it’s a ‘must see’ tourist attractions in Hawke’s Bay. Underneath the model train exhibits is the former ballroom’s raised waxed wooden dancefloor.”

True Commercial - 88-94 Dickens St%2c Napier - Street level .jpg

Turkish kebab takeaway operator Cafe Anatolia leases street level retail space. Photo / Supplied

A structural strengthening plan has been completed for the upper level of building, and Dixon says this could be made available to potential buyers. He says the ground floor structure does not require any remedial improvement works at all. The building is constructed of concrete pad foundations, steel reinforced concrete cavity perimeter walls and a lightweight trussed roof.

Documentation shows there was some strengthening of the building immediately after the 1931 earthquake, with reinforced concrete installed and the facade rebuilt.

Hanson says the instantly recognisable Dickens St property draws retiree-aged holiday-makers with fond memories of the Gaiety Theatre. In addition to musical acts, the Top Hat club hosted performing comedians, hypnotists, and even caged go-go dancers.

“Archives show that in its heyday, the Top Hat would regularly hold Saturday nights dances attracting a capacity 758 patrons with queues of up to 300 people outside. Ironically, the venue was alcohol-free, serving coffee and tea only, and men were only admitted if they were wearing a jacket and tie while women had to wear frocks or gowns,” says Hansen.

Memorable balls

“In addition to the Saturday night dances, the Top Hat hosted virtually every ball in Hawke’s Bay including law society balls, sports club balls, ‘who’s who’ society balls, and racing club balls. They all ended up at the Top Hat.”

An independent engineer’s report notes the during the first half of the Gaiety Theatre’s life, dances were held on the ground floor. Steel beams and the wooden floor on the upper level were reinforced in 1961 to handle the energetic dance moves of the rock and roll era — compared to the more genteel sweeping footwork of the previous “big band” era.

Bayleys Hawke’s Bay salesperson Sam MacDonald says that while the Gaiety Theatre building in its current format has been around for 105 years, entertainment on the Dickens St site dated back to 1896.

“The original Thompson and Paine Picture Theatre was a purpose-built cinema showing silent movies to the accompaniment of an orchestra. The cinema burnt down in 1911. The completely new Gaiety Theatre was built in 1912 and, aside from some collapsing facade masonry, survived the 1931 Napier earthquake relatively intact,” MacDonald says.

“The Gaiety Theatre building is part of Napier’s world-famous art deco walking trail. There is the potential, subject to council consent, to add value to the property by developing the upper level of about 600sq m into either one or two apartments, or commercial offices.”