This is the first in a series of vignettes by local historian Michael Fowler, detailing events and characters that have shaped the Hawke’s Bay Opera House story.

Architect Henry Eli White

When it came to choosing an architect in 1914 to design the Hastings’ Municipal Theatre, the Hastings Borough Council engaged Henry Eli White (1876-1952), forgoing the common practice of holding a competition for the design.

Henry White’s appointment was contested by a councillor, and he got the job only after a Council ballot, with the motion to dismiss him narrowly defeated by the Mayor’s casting vote.

White’s use of a cantilever design to bear the weight of the auditorium’s upper balconies allowed better sight lines for audiences. There would be no – in his words – “wretched pillars”. Henry’s design also created perfect acoustics for musical acts.

Audience comfort was catered for with adequate ventilation, and safety with enough exits to empty the theatre in a matter of minutes.

The outside façade was Spanish Mission, an architectural style that was popular at the time. The Art Noveau interior was beginning to go out of fashion around the time it was concluded.