National Tobacco Company

Napier, New Zealand | C.1931

Photo Credit: Daniel Anfossy

The Rothman Building, also known as the National Tobacco Company, is regarded as one of Napier’s most elegant commercial buildings.

Designed by J.A. Louis Hay after the 1931 earthquake that destroyed Napier for German tobacco tycoon, Gerhard Husheer who had founded his company in 1922.

Despite the quick and economical rebuilding that took over Napier, Husheer spared no expense for his new building, demanding original plans sent by Hay to be more elaborate and fancy.

The resulting design mixes Art Deco geometry with Art Nouveau ornamentation as the building is comprised of rectangular forms that recede from the arched entrance. Bringing some native New Zealand influence to the predominantly European design, Raupo bullrush roses have been carved into the entrance and the sides of the building.

This process of using simple geometric forms then enlivened with applied decoration gives reference to Joseph Maria Olbrich’s Secession Hall Building in Vienna. Additionally the implementation of native Raupo and roses for the decorative forms indicates Hay was aware of the work by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Henri Sullivan whereby applied decoration was integrated with regional characteristics.

Between 1956 and 2001 the building was purchased and owned by Rothmans of Pall Mall and subsequently known as the Rothmans Building. During this period the building fell into some disrepair but the current owners ‘Big Save Furniture’ have restored it to original condition and allow public access to the front rooms during business hours.

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