Hawke’s Bay’s premier entertainment venue of yesteryear - Napier’s legendary Gaiety Theatre - is on the market.
The 105-year-old building on Dickens Street was built in 1912 – hosting scores of concerts by some of New Zealand’s biggest musicians.
Bayleys Hawke’s Bay salesperson Sam MacDonald said while the Gaiety Theatre building in its current format has been around for 105 years, entertainment on the Dickens Street site dated back to 1896.
“In its first incarnation, the original Thompson and Paine Picture Theatre was a purpose-built cinema showing black and white silent movies to the accompaniment of an orchestra,” he says.
“The cinema burnt down to the ground in 1911 and the completely new Gaiety Theatre was built in 1912 and, aside from some collapsing façade masonry, survived the 1931 Napier earthquake relatively intact.”
MacDonald says the Theatre operated for three decades as a big band dance hall before the rock and roll era of the 1960s swung in and the venue was renamed the Top Hat.
“Among the famous New Zealand artists to have taken the stage at the Top Hat are Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Ray Woolf, The Chicks, Alison Durbin, Tommy Adderley, and Teddy and the Bears,” he said.
“[However] 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.”
He said 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 the venue was transformed into a trio of retail outlets – including a model train showroom which converted the old ballroom dancefloor into an extensive working display of miniature electric trains,” said MacDonald.
“[Today] the Gaiety Theatre building is part of Napier’s world-famous art deco walking trail.”
Baleys salesperson Carolyn Hanson – who works in the company’s Tourism, Leisure, and Hospitality Division in Auckland - says the property is regularly visited by retiree-aged holiday-makers with fond memories of when the visited Gaiety Theatre in its previous incarnation.
“In addition to musical acts, the Top Hat club also saw performing comedians, hypnotists, and even caged go-go dancers,” she says.
“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 we wearing a jacket and tie while women had to wear frocks or gowns.”
Now there is a new chapter for the historic theatre - with the freehold land and tenanted building at 88-94 Dickens Street being jointly marketed for sale at auction on March 8 by Bayleys Hawke’s Bay and Bayleys Auckland.