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

Repairs being made to the Hastings Municipal Theatre in 1931

At first glance the Hastings Municipal Theatre appeared to have survived the 1931, 7.8 magnitude Hawke’s Bay earthquake, but significant damage had occurred behind the scenes.

Special police who were appointed to guard against looters after the earthquake were “greatly scared” when the theatre “swayed around from side to side and creaked threateningly”.

The backstage area had completely collapsed, and there was significant damage to the brick work on the southern side of the theatre.

Henry Eli White, the original architect, offered his services for the reconstruction work – but he was not required. 

A group called the Associated Architects, which was formed to provide architectural services after the earthquake to restrict outside firms being used, undertook the work.

The backstage area was completely rebuilt using reinforced concrete. Bricks on the theatre’s side walls were replaced and held in place with a steel frame.

A pagoda sat on top of each of the front façade’s twin towers. These large features were considered an earthquake risk, so were replaced with a smaller version.

The theatre was closed for a year, reopening in February 1932.

After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and changes to the building code, an assessment of the Opera House released in 2014 showed the building did not comply with the required standard (34% of the building code), leading to its closure.

After public consultation it was decided to strengthen the theatre and undertake other renovation work in the Opera House and nearby precinct.