The Theatre, with its extravagant Art Nouveau interior decorations, is the keystone of the complex. Originating in Europe, the Art Nouveau style uses designs inspired by nature and a love of fine crafts; a reaction against the industrialisation of the period.
Then known as The Hastings Municipal Theatre, Hawke’s Bay Opera House was designed by Wellington architect, Henry Eli White, and built in 1915 by the Bull Brothers of Napier, who submitted the lowest tender at £12,000. A considerable sum, reflecting the community’s support for performing arts.
The Theatre, designed by White to seat close to 1,400 people, was notable for uninterrupted sight lines, excellent ventilation, extensive accommodation for actors (with 15 dressing rooms) And fine acoustics. The grand opening was held on 18 October 1915, with Hastings Operatic Society performing the Chinese musical comedy, San Toy. Over its many years of operation, the Theatre has hosted a diverse range of performances and events
The Hawke’s Bay Opera House was closed in 2014 after engineers found the 12-metre side walls of the theatre could collapse during an earthquake. Parts of the Opera House fell well short of national requirements to reach at least 34 per cent of the current Building Code.
An extensive public consultation was carried out in early 2016, asking residents if they were in favour of strengthening and re-opening the Opera House, with more than 80 per cent of respondents in favour of bringing the building up to 70 to 75 per cent of current New Building Standard. At the same time, the community asked Council to put a permanent roof on the Plaza and come back to them at a later date to discuss what to do with the Municipal Buildings. More details on this consultation can be found at www.growingourculturalheart.co.nz