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Legendary dance hall placed on the market for sale

Media Release


The century-old historic building which once housed one of New Zealand’s most famous entertainment venues has been placed on the market for sale.

Legendary dance hall and entertainment venue placed on the market for sale

The century-old historic building which once housed Hawke’s Bay’s premier entertainment venue – hosting scores of concerts by New Zealand’s biggest musicians – has been placed on the market for sale.

The Gaiety Theatre in Napier’s Dickens Street was built in 1912 and 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, 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.

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 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.

Now the freehold land and tenanted building at 88-94 Dickens Street are being jointly marketed for sale at auction on March 8 by Bayleys Hawke’s Bay and Bayleys Auckland. Salespeople Paul Dixon and Carolyn Hanson said the 1430 square metre two storey building sat on 911 square metres of land zoned inner city commercial.

The three retail shops in the building generate an annual income of $75,855, and consist of:

• Turkish kebab takeaway operator Café Anatolia on a current lease expiring in 2019, with one further four-year right of renewal, occupying 471 square metres and generating rental of $49,000.

• The Kiwi Mancave collectables and memorabilia trader on a current lease expiring in 2020, with two further two-year rights of renewal, occupying 220 square metres of space and generating rental of $16,855.


• Trainworld Ltd model train showroom, operating on a month-to-month lease occupying the upper level of the building and generating rental of $10,000.

Mr Dixon said the building was located in the heart of Napier’s Art Deco’ city centre, which was also the city’s primary retail strip.

He said the building’s highly decorative façade was in a Spanish Mission style, with single-run lean-to verandah roofing sheltering the footpath underneath and providing a high level of convenience for clientele visiting the tenancies incorporated in the block.

“As a result of these factors, the retail tenants in this part of Napier enjoy 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 Street carpark,” Mr Dixon said.

“Within 88-94 Dickens Street, Café Anatolia has been serving up kebabs, burgers and fries since 2007 – which is an impressive record for a fast food retailer. Trainworld has likewise been a tenant since the early 2000s and is renown for its grand concrete stairwell leading up from the street entrance.

“The vast network of nearly four kilometres 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, and is one of the ‘must see’ tourist attractions in Hawke’s Bay. Underneath the model train exhibits is the former ballroom’s raised waxed wooden dancefloor.”

A structural strengthening plan has been completed for the upper level of building, and Mr Dixon said this could be made available to potential purchasers. He said the ground floor structure did 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 façade rebuilt

Ms Hanson said the instantly recognizable Dicken Street property was 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.

“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,” she said.

“In addition to the Saturday night dances, the Top Hat hosted virtually every ball in Hawke’s Bay….. 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 said the that while the Gaiety Theatre building in its current format had 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. The cinema burnt down to the ground in 1911. The completely new Gaiety Theatre was built in 1912 and, aside from some collapsing façade masonry, survived the 1931 Napier earthquake relatively intact,” Mr MacDonald said.

“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 approximately 600 square metres into either one or two apartments, or commercial offices.”

© Scoop Media

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