Robert McGregor, who put Napier on the world's art deco map, dies

Robert McGregor, the man considered the father of Napier's art deco festival.
Robert McGregor, the man considered the father of Napier's art deco festival.

The man credited with putting Napier on the map for its annual art deco celebration has died.

Robert McGregor, 75, died in Hawke's Bay Hospital on Tuesday. 

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said he was without question the reason the city was now recognised internationally as a centre of all things art deco, and home to the annual Art Deco Weekend, which attracted more than 38,000 people.

McGregor was the force behind the city's first art deco celebration in 1988, when it involved about four events, five vintage cars, and about a dozen people having a Gatsby Picnic on a stage in Napier's Municipal Theatre.

This year's four-day festival attracted more than 38,000 visitors and is credited with injecting $11 million into the Hawke's Bay economy.

"Robert was the catalyst for it all," Dalton said.

"Robert got very upset in the 80s when they started tearing down all these magnificent old buildings. He was the one who stood up and said, 'Hang on, we need to do something about retaining these.'.

"He knew what the city had was unique, due to it all being built immediately after the [1931] earthquake."

McGregor was one of the seven initial enthusiasts who saw the potential in the city's buildings and in 1985 formed The Art Deco Group.

In a 2012 interview, the fourth-generation Napierite said a friend told him in the 1970s that Napier was an art deco city.

"I had failed to notice and it didn't leave much of an impression until the president of the British Museum Association visited in 1983 and pointed out to me that nobody built cities during the Depression.

"That's when I realised how unusual we were, and we had something that was marketable, something we could hang our hat on and make Napier famous."

By 1992, with support from the Napier City Council, the Art Deco Trust had become a fulltime operation with its own premises and shop, with McGregor as executive director.

A celebration of McGregor's life will be held in Napier's Municipal Theatre on Monday.