Friday, 28 June 2013

Art Deco...in Fiji!


Art deco reached parts of the world that you might not expect. Three years ago I visited Fiji to attend my daughter's wedding. Whilst there, my son and I took the opportunity to spend a day in Suva, Fiji's small but busy capital city, which boasts wonderful views across its bay to the mountains. It also has an interesting museum and the little gem pictured here - the former Regal Cinema on the city's main street.

Grade B listed by Fiji's National Trust, and probably built in the late 1920's or early 1930's it was one of a number of cinemas popular in Suva during this period. I have found it difficult to uncover much in the way of information about the building but understand that it screened Hindi films from the 1930's onwards and also Chinese films more recently. This is somehow appropriate as the Regal, no longer operating as a cinema, is now home to the Ming Du Chinese restaurant. It also reflects the diverse nature of Fiji's population which has large Indian and Chinese communities as well as the indigenous Fijians and people from other Pacific islands - a diversity that has sometimes proved uncomfortableThe Regal together with another formerly popular cinema, the Phoenix, closed around the year 2000 and Suva's film fans are now served by the Village 6 Cinema Complex. 

I noticed one other deco building during my day in Suva. The Government buildings complex (pictured below) was built on the site of a drained swamp. This necessitated reinforced concrete pilings to support the large building that took two years to construct and was completed in 1939. The complex, which also boasts a great art deco clock tower, houses the courts and several government departments and is very close to the Fiji National Museum, a little further along Victoria Parade.
Fiji by Yekkes

Both the Regal and the Government complex feature the decorative curves, symmetry and "fans" common to the style during the 1930's and both make an important physical contribution to Suva's urban landscape. I would be delighted to receive any further information readers might have about either the Regal or the Government buildings, especially details about the architects and any interesting stories or memories connected with the former cinema. 

Another Suva building that has many stories and memories attached to it is the Grand Pacific Hotel, just a short step from the Government building. For many years just a shadow of its former glory, this beautiful colonial style hotel is in the process of being restored with a plan to re-open in 2014. Built by the Union Steamship Company and opened in 1914, famous guests included writers Somerset Maugham and James A. Michener. Michener mentioned the hotel in his memoir, The World is my Home, describing the Grand Pacific as "...a haven to all who crossed the Pacific on tourist ships...It was the Grand Pacific Hotel, famed G.P.H. of the travel books, a big squarish building of several floors, with a huge central dining area filled with small tables, each meticulously fitted with fine silver and china, bud vases and a porch leading out to the lawn that went down to the sea..."

But, perhaps the most famous visitor was a very young Queen Elizabeth who stayed there in 1953 on her first visit to the islands. The then governor, Sir Ronald Garvey staged a great ball in her honour and the evening culminated with the Queen and Prince Philip appearing on the balcony of the hotel to greet thousands of candle bearing Fijians. The balcony is to be a key feature of the hotel's restoration. Not art deco, but another beautiful and important part of Suva's built heritage that has either stood empty or been used as a military barracks for more than 20 years following two violent coups that finally drove the tourists away. Democracy is scheduled to return to Fiji in 2014 - the centenary year of the hotel, the reopening of which will be an important milestone in a year of transition.
Fiji by Yekkes

You can see more pictures from Fiji here.

2 comments:

  1. great stuff Adrian we often see the Courthouse on TV here whenever there is something happening in Suva - which was quite regularly over the last few years, regards Robin

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  2. This article has been translated in French : https://www.architecture-art-deco.fr/art-deco-fidji-oceanie-pacifique.html

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