Date with the Wrecking Ball – Catinat Building, 26 Ly Tu Trong, 1927

IMG_3691

The Catinat Building today

This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com

According to a recent article in the Dân trí newspaper, the Catinat Building at the corner of Đồng Khởi and Lý Tự Trọng streets sits on a so-called “gold land” block which has been earmarked for redevelopment to accommodate “services, culture, luxury hotels, finance offices, exhibition areas.” While it’s still standing, we take a look at the history of this old art deco landmark.

In the early 20th century, the villa which once stood on part of the Catinat Building site at 158 rue Catinat served a variety of functions. At various times it housed the offices of French companies such as the Société d’Oxygène et d’Acétylène d’Extrême-Orient and Pathé Cinéma. Between 1902 and 1905, the building and its garden even became the first home of the Cercle Sportif de Saïgon, offering a gymnasium, a fencing room and a small shooting gallery.

DSC02995

A Société urbaine foncière Indochinoise (SUFIC) plaque on the Lý Tự Trọng street side of the building

However, in 1925, both 158 rue Catinat and the adjacent plot on rue de Lagrandière were acquired by the wealthy Société urbaine foncière Indochinoise (Indochina Real Estate Company, SUFIC), which demolished the earlier structures to make way for the current building.

Being a five-storey block, the project involved the laying of deep foundations before construction got under way, and during the course of this work a fascinating discovery was made. The Bulletin de l’Agence générale des colonies of April 1926 reported this as follows:

“The discovery in Saigon of the remains of an ancient citadel

As we know, Saigon, capital of Cochinchine, was built on the ruins of the native town, which was completely destroyed by fire during the conquest.

9 Construction of new station

A colonial-era construction site in Saigon

However, our colleague from the journal l’Impartial reports that the city is, in fact, much older than we think. In this connection, he informs us of a chance discovery of vestiges of the ancient city: the remains of a building constructed in 1790.

This discovery was made at the junction of rue Catinat – the busiest and best shopping street in town – with rue de Lagrandière. For several weeks, this has been a vast construction site where, after demolishing the old buildings, workers have been digging the ground to prepare the foundations for a new one. However, having reached a certain depth, they encountered unexpected resistance. There they found strong walls made from enormous stones, with a very special appearance. Their existence at this depth surprised the engineers. Monsieur Jean Bouchot, the Government Archivist of Cochinchine, was immediately consulted. Thanks to early maps of the city, it did not take him long to identify the remains in question as remnants of the first citadel of Saigon, built in 1790. Monsieur Louis Finot, director of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) has confirmed this hypothesis.”

Bastion

The rue Catinat/rue de Lagrandière junction as depicted on a colonial map which superimposes the lost 1790 citadel walls onto the French-era Saigon street layout

In fact, right down to 1835, the Càn Nguyên gate, main southern entrance to the 1790 Gia Định Citadel, stood on what is now Đồng Khởi street, between the junctions of Lý Tự Trọng and Lê Thánh Tôn. It is therefore most likely that the vestiges discovered in 1926 during construction of the Catinat Building were the bastions surrounding this gate.

Thereafter construction proceeded quickly and the Catinat Building with its main entrance at 26 rue de Lagrandière was inaugurated in early 1927. Plaques containing the names of its architects (the unnamed “architectes du Credit foncière de l’Indochine”) and its owner (SUFIC) were installed on the building’s walls.

Like the recently-demolished 213 rue Catinat, it was designed in art deco style as an up-market development targeted at a high-end clientele. In the 1930s and 1940s, its occupants included the Saigon offices of several rubber plantations – including the Société des Hévéas de Tây-Ninh, the Société Indochinoise des plantations Réunis de Mimot and the Plantation de Phuc-Ha.

26 LTT date_property

A plaque crediting the unnamed “architectes du Credit foncière de l’Indochine” on the Đồng Khởi street side of the building (photo by Tom Hricko)

Other important tenants included the journals Revue Indo-chinoise illustrée and l’Impartial (which had broken the story about the citadel vestiges) and, from 1937, the city’s main tourist office, the Bureau officiel du tourisme Indochinois. In the 1940s, the building’s owner SUFIC and the Frigorifique company also took up residence here. From the outset, the ground floor corner was occupied mainly by restaurants and cafés.

However, perhaps what really confirmed the status of the Catinat Building as one of the most desirable pieces of colonial real estate was the opening here in the early 1930s of the United States Consulate. This was the third home of the American diplomatic mission in Saigon after 4 rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi) and 25 rue Taberd (Nguyễn Du), and on 23 November 1941 it became the target of a devastating bomb attack – said to have been perpetrated by “Japanese gendarmerie” – which caused extensive damage to the Catinat Building. Just two weeks later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and all US diplomats were expelled from Indochina. When the Americans returned in 1945, the US Consulate relocated again to 4 rue Guynemer (now Hồ Tùng Mậu street) before the opening of the first purpose-built US Embassy on boulevard de la Somme (Hàm Nghi boulevard) in 1950.

35A CIA 22 Gia Long

An iconic Hubert Van Es shot of the American helicopter evacuation of 29 April 1975 from the building next door

Intriguingly, it seems that while they were in residence, the Americans also acquired the building at number 22 next door, which remained US property right down to 1975.

By the 1960s it was known as the Pittman apartment building and housed the CIA station chief and several of his staff. On 29 April 1975, 22 Gia Long (Lý Tự Trọng) famously served as one of three main departure assembly points (the others being 192 Công Lý/Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa and 2 Phan Văn Đạt), from the roof of which American helicopter evacuations were made.

Since Reunification, the Catinat building has led a fairly uneventful life, its upper floors rented out as apartments and its prime ground floor retail spaces hosting in recent years an ever-changing array of bars, cafés and restaurants.

“Saigon, 24 November 1941: The State Department announced today that the US Consulate in Saigon, French Indochina, pictured above, was wrecked by a bomb last night. According to the Department’s announcement, no member of the staff was injured.” (US government press photo)

Catinat La Grandiere 1950

A LIFE magazine image of the Catinat Building in the 1950s

IMG_2362

A modern view of the 22 Lý Tự Trọng rooftop taken from the Chi Lăng Park

DSC02997

Another external view of the Catinat Building today

???????????????????????????????

Balcony ironwork in the Catinat Building (photo by Tom Hricko)

??????????????????????

Window and handrail detail in the Catinat Building stairwell (photo by Tom Hricko)

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Old Saigon Building of the Week – Former Institution Taberd, 1890

IMG_4694

The Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School at 53 Nguyễn Du

This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com

With its prime location in one of Hồ Chí Minh City’s numerous “đất vàng” (gold land) areas, many wonder how long the former Institution Tabert, now the Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School at 53 Nguyễn Du, can withstand the pressures for redevelopment. This week we take a look at the history of this old school compound, originally the site of the first French governor’s palace.

Saigon 1870

The first governor’s palace as depicted on a map of 1870

It was surely no accident that, soon after the conquest of Saigon, the French chose the top end of what later became rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi street) as their centre of government. This ancient thoroughfare had once linked the quayside with the main southern gate of King Gia Long’s great 1790 Gia Định Citadel, and the area framed by modern Đồng Khởi, Lê Duẩn, Hai Bà Trưng and Nguyễn Huệ streets had been the location of the Hoàng Cung or royal palace, home to the king when he visited the city.

Symbolically situated on part of the former royal palace compound, the first Hôtel du gouverneur – one of several key colonial government offices initially located in this area – was a collection of wooden buildings imported in kit form from Singapore and assembled on site in 1861-1862 for Admiral-Governor Louis Adolphe Bonard (28 November 1861-23 April 1863).

111 La premiere residence des Gouverneurs a Saigon 1

A drawing of the first governor’s palace from the 1931 book Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931)

It comprised a residence, an office, a 600-seat salle de spectacles (events hall), a stables and a small farm for rearing chickens and pigs. Drawings of the building were published in the 1931 book Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931) by Paul Boudet and André Masson.

The salle de spectacles of this first governor’s palace was used for a variety of functions, including the staging of performances by visiting theatre and music companies before the opening of the first Théâtre de Saïgon in 1872.

After the demolition in the early 1870s of the first wooden cathedral – the Église Sainte-Marie-Immaculée, which stood on the site of the modern Sun Wah Tower until it became infested by termites – the salle de spectacles was also pressed into service every Sunday as a makeshift church.

image_thumb

Father Henri de Kerlan (1844-1877), founder of the Institution Taberd

In 1873, following the inauguration of the Norodom Palace, the governor and his staff vacated the old wooden palace buildings and placed them in the charge of the Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP). “Dedicating his care and much of his personal fortune to this work,” an MEP priest named Father Henri de Kerlan (1844-1877) then transformed the complex into the Institution Taberd, a school for abandoned mixed-race children.

Opened on 31 August 1874, the school was named, like the street on which it stood, in honour of Jean-Louis Taberd, an MEP missionary who had served as Vicar Apostolic of Cochinchina and Bishop of Isauropolis from 1830 to 1840. Right down to 1880, when the Notre Dame Cathedral was finally inaugurated, the former salle de spectacles continued to function at weekends as a temporary Cathedral.

In 1879, the colonial government withdrew its subsidy to the nearby Collège d’Adran, which had been managed since 1866 by the La Salle Christian Brothers (Frères des écoles chrétiennes). Without student scholarships, the Brothers were obliged to shut shop and leave Cochinchina. The parents of former Collège d’Adran students – both French and Vietnamese – sent them instead to the Institution Taberd, and throughout the 1880s its staff were increasingly overwhelmed by the influx.

Institution Taberd

An exterior view of the Institution Taberd during the colonial era

This situation was resolved by one of Kerlan’s successors, Father Lucien Mossard (1887-1890), who persuaded Bishop Isidore Colombert to bring back the La Salle Christian Brothers to take over the running of the school. By 1890, the old wooden palace buildings had been demolished and replaced by the current building, a large three-storey structure constructed around a spacious courtyard.

By 1894 the school had 344 students, including 306 boarders, and in that same year an annex was opened in Cap St-Jacques (Vũng Tàu).

Like many other city schools, the Institution Taberd – more commonly known in the 20th century as the École Taberd – was relocated to temporary accommodation during the Japanese occupation and subsequent Allied bombing of Saigon in the years 1940-1945.

Jean Baptist de La Salle Taberd

Before 1975 a statue of John Baptiste de La Salle (1651-1719), founder of the La Salle Christian Brothers, stood in the courtyard of the Institution Taberd

After the Geneva Accords of 1954, the École Taberd building briefly became a place of shelter for nearly 1,200 migrant families before resuming operations as a school.

In 1975, all of the La Salle schools in Việt Nam were dissolved. In the following year the École Taberd was taken over by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and transformed into a secondary pedagogic school. It became the Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School for gifted students in 2000.

Saigon 1864

The site of the school was initially occupied by the first governor’s palace, depicted here on an 1864 map

111 La premiere residence des Gouverneurs a Saigon 1

A drawing of the first governor’s palace from Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931)

112 La premiere residence des Gouverneurs a Saigon 2

A drawing of the interior of the first governor’s palace from Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931)

15 First city theatre

A drawing of the salle de spectacles in the first governor’s palace from Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931)

Saigon 1890

We know that the current school buildings were in existence by 1890, since they are clearly identifiable on a map which dates from that year

Institution Taberd

An exterior view of the Institution Taberd during the colonial era

10106979

The courtyard of the Institution Taberd during the colonial era

IMG_4690

The main entrance of the Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School today

IMG_4700

A statueless plinth in the courtyard of the Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Date with the Wrecking Ball – 213 Dong Khoi, 1930

IMAGE 10

The art deco portico of 213 Đồng Khởi pictured in 2012

The project to build a new 14-storey City Administration Centre behind the Hồ Chí Minh City People’s Committee involves the destruction of several heritage buildings, and work to demolish the first of these – the attractive art deco office and apartment block at 213 Đồng Khởi – began on 24 March 2014.

11837324263_045aa6578e_b

213 rue Catinat, pictured soon after it opened

For the first 60 years of colonial rule, this spot was occupied by the office of the colonial Secrétaire général, head of the adjacent Secrétariat général du gouvernement de la Cochinchine building, but in the late 1920s that was demolished and replaced by 213 rue Catinat, in its day one of the most prestigious addresses in the city.

Built in 1929-1930 by the Société d’exploitation des établissements Brossard et Mopin, 213 rue Catinat subsequently housed the Consulates of Portugal, Austria and Spain and the Office de Propagande de l’Indochine (tourisme).

Gene Long 1965 1966

A 1965 view of 213 Tự Do (the former 213 rue Catinat) by Gene Long

It also became a centre of French haute couture, with numerous up-market fashion outlets, including Marguerite, Blessy and Galeries Lafayette.

Other leading institutions based here in the 1930s included the Agence Financière d’Indochine (Indochina Financial Agency), the Société foncière de Gia-dinh (Gia Định Financial Company), the Société urbaine foncière de l’Indochine (Indochina Real Estate Company), the Clinique de beauté et de Massage médicale, and the weekly journal L’Indochine financière et économique.

However, most of the building was occupied by apartments. One of its best-known former residents was rubber baroness Madame Janie-Marie Marguerite Bertin Rivière de la Souchère, who rented an apartment here from 1932 to 1938 after losing her magnificent estate in the Great Depression.

11838111323_b362ebf676_b

A late 1960s view of 213 Tự Do

The building at 213 rue Catinat is also mentioned in Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American – after the departure of his girlfriend Phương, the novel’s anti-hero, British correspondent Thomas Fowler, briefly considers finding a new place to live and goes there to view “the pied-a-terre of a rubber planter who was going home”. However, Graham Greene clearly disliked the building, since Fowler refers to it disparagingly as a “so-called modern building (Paris Exhibition 1934?) up at the other end of rue Catinat beyond the Continental Hotel.”

Never recognised as a work of historic, artistic or architectural significance, 213 rue Catinat saw little or no maintenance after 1975 and was thus in a poor state of repair. It was chosen as the first building on the block to be demolished in order to accommodate the site office for the City Administration Centre project.

UPDATE: By June 2014, demolition of 213 Đồng Khởi was complete.

IMAGE 7

The stylish exterior of 213 Đồng Khởi on the Lê Thánh Tôn junction before its demolition

213 corner ii copy

Comparative photographs from the “Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now” Facebook group page

213 DK Dec 2012 i

More comparative photographs from the “Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now” Facebook group page

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Old Saigon Building of the Week – Former Nestle Headquarters, Early 1930s

Societe Nestle NKKN lower section

This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com

The Swiss company Nestlé, founded in 1905 following the merger of Farine Lactée Henri Nestlé (1866) and the Anglo-Swiss Milk Company (1866), established its first trading office in Saigon in 1912.

New Image

The ornate portico of the former Nestlé headquarters

The building which housed this first Magasin Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co at 5 rue Vannier (Ngô Đức Kế) may still be seen today on the junction with Đồng Khởi street, the former rue Catinat.

The company grew significantly during the First World War years, and by the 1920s the Société Nestlé was selling large quantities of evaporated milk, dairy products and chocolate to consumers in Indochina through its three offices in Saigon, Hà Nội and Hải Phong.

Meanwhile the company sought new, larger premises. In 1916 it moved to 19 rue Mac-Mahon (Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa), then in 1925 it relocated again to nearby 35-37 rue Mac-Mahon. Finally, in the early 1930s, it had its office building at 35-37 rue Mac-Mahon rebuilt in the latest art deco style.

One of the city’s most stylish art deco structures, the old Nestlé headquarters was used for a variety of purposes after 1975 and is currently home to the Saigon Times Group.

Nestle early copy

The first Magasin Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co building at the junction of rue Vannier (Ngô Đức Kế) and rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi) still exists today

Nestle copy

The former Société Nestlé headquarters at 35-37 rue Mac-Mahon (Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa) is now home to the Saigon Times Group

IMG_4716

The attractive facade of the Saigon Times Group building

Poster

A 1920s Nestlé poster for condensed baby milk

IMAGE 5

A 1939 Nestlé advertisement in Le Nouvelliste newspaper

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

The Mysterious Khon Island Portage Railway

Chemin de Fer sur lïle de Khone 1

The Khôn island railway in the 1930s

The only working railway in Laos before 2009, the 7km Khôn Island line in Champassak province was built between 1893 and 1920 by the Saigon-based Compagnie de Messageries fluviales de Cochinchine, as part of the effort to assert a French presence in the Upper Mekong region.

283_001

A colonial-era postcard of the Khôn Waterfalls

As they advanced their interests along the Mekong River, the French quickly found an insurmountable obstacle to navigation in the 15m high Khôn Waterfalls, located some 500km from the river mouth. Since the irregularity of its water flow mitigated against the construction of a lock system, they decided instead to build a portage railway to connect the two sections of river.

When it first opened in 1893, the line ran just 4km across the island of Don Khôn. Its primary function was to transport specially-prefabricated steamships which could be dismantled on one side of the Khôn Waterfalls and reassembled on the other, thereby linking Saigon and Phnom Penh with Pakse, Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Le passage délicat de la chaloupe Trentinian à travers lîle de Khone

The riverboat “Trentinian” being moved delicately by rail across Khôn island

Initially a 0.6m gauge Decauville line, it was upgraded in 1897 to 1m gauge, though even at that stage, motive power was provided not by locomotives, but by requisitioned labourers.

By 1911, human power had been replaced by two Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0T steam locomotives, and rolling stock on the line comprised a modest range of wagons and flat trucks. Thereafter, larger river vessels could be transported across the island without the need for disassembly.

In around 1920, the Khôn Island line was extended 3km northward across a 185m concrete viaduct to Don Det island, where a bigger berth was provided for steam ships at Ban Det, although the original wharf at Khôn Nord was still used at times of high water.

This untitled image may be of one of the former Saigon-Mỹ Tho line locomotives being offloaded at Khôn island line in 1927.

In 1927, when the Saigon-Mỹ Tho line acquired new rolling stock courtesy of German war reparations payments, one of its original 15-ton Egestorff (Hanomag) 0-6-0T locomotives was shipped upriver to Laos along with several closed carriages, thereby improving standards of comfort for passengers.

Henri Cucheresset travelled the line en route from Hà Nội to Phnom Penh in 1924, three years before the arrival of this new rolling stock. In an article published in 1927 in the journal l’Eveil Économique, he provides us with an amusing account of what it was like to travel on the “Khône Nord-Khône Sud Express.”

The locomotive, which he describes as “never having been fussily maintained, that is to say, just enough to keep the wheels turning,” hauled “a deluxe car comprising a covered flat wagon with a garden bench in the middle, which has never seen paint” and “one or two flat wagons for freight.….This lovely ensemble advanced with a deafening clanking at 8km per hour.”

P1120530

The exhibition at Ban Khon village incorporates the remains of a 1911-built Orenstein & Koppel locomotive named ‘Eloïse”

Following the Japanese occupation of Indochina, a treaty of 1941 redefined the Franco-Siamese boundary, awarding Khôn island to Thailand, and the railway line fell into disuse. After the return of the French in 1945, no attempt was made to reopen the line and the construction of a new road along the left bank of the Mekong in 1949 effectively rendered it obsolete.

In recent decades, the old trackbed of this curious line has become a popular tourist attraction for visitors to southern Laos. In Ban Khôn village, where the line’s maintenance depot is believed to have stood, the rusting hulk of a 1911-built Orenstein & Koppel locomotive named “Eloïse” has survived and now forms part of a small outdoor exhibition on the history of the line.

004

A map of the Khôn island railway published in Madrolle, Indochine (1930)

P1120573

In the early days riverboats had to be dismantled before they could be transported on the line

592_001

The riverboat “Massie” at Khôn Nord in 1898

La chaloupe Garcerie sur les rails de lîle de Khone

The riverboat “Trentinian” being moved by rail across Khôn island

Tim Doling is the author of The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 2012) and also conducts 16-day and 13-day Việt Nam Rail Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group Rail Thing – Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam for more information about Việt Nam’s railway history and all the latest news from Vietnam Railways.

You may also be interested in these articles on the railways and tramways of Việt Nam, Cambodia and Laos:

A Relic of the Steam Railway Age in Da Nang
By Tram to Hoi An
Date with the Wrecking Ball – Vietnam Railways Building
Derailing Saigon’s 1966 Monorail Dream
Dong Nai Forestry Tramway
Full Steam Ahead on Cambodia’s Toll Royal Railway
Goodbye to Steam at Thai Nguyen Steel Works
Ha Noi Tramway Network
How Vietnam’s Railways Looked in 1927
Indochina Railways in 1928
“It Seems that One Network is being Stripped to Re-equip Another” – The Controversial CFI Locomotive Exchange of 1935-1936
Phu Ninh Giang-Cam Giang Tramway
Saigon Tramway Network
Saigon’s Rubber Line
The Changing Faces of Sai Gon Railway Station, 1885-1983
The Langbian Cog Railway
The Long Bien Bridge – “A Misshapen but Essential Component of Ha Noi’s Heritage”
The Lost Railway Works of Truong Thi
The Railway which Became an Aerial Tramway
The Saigon-My Tho Railway Line

Old Saigon Building of the Week – Saigon Waterworks Tower, 1921

New Image

The Saigon Waterworks tower of 1921 (photo by Tom Hricko)

The history of the old water tower in the Sài Gòn Water Corporation complex at 1 Võ Văn Tần is integrally linked with the early development of what we know today as Turtle Lake (Hồ Con Rùa).

Before the arrival of the French, the modern Turtle Lake intersection was the location of the Vọng Khuyết gate, one of two northern entrances to the great 1790 Gia Định Citadel. Following the latter’s destruction in 1835, the current road network began to develop.

C d'eau 1

The Château d’eau de Saigon of 1877

After the French conquest, one of the most serious problems facing French colonial administrators was the provision of fresh water. It was thus fortuitous that in 1877, while laying the foundations of the Notre Dame Cathedral, workers chanced upon a deep aquifer. Later that year, the first Château d’eau (water tower) was built on the junction of rue Sohier and rue Catinat prolongée (the modern Turtle Lake) to supply drinking water to city residents via a network of underground conduits and street pumps. The intersection then became known as the Rond-point du Château d’eau.

In her 1892 book Les Indes et l’Extrême Orient, impressions de voyage d’une parisienne, globetrotting French widow Louise Bourbonnaud describes this “artesian well” as “a beautiful work on a very high platform, with a spiral staircase fitted into a cage.” She adds: “The local people were astonished when they first saw the devils from the west take spring water from the ground. I can imagine their amazement.”

13582710564_772797c984_o

This photograph of the Château d’eau de Saigon also shows the adjacent steam pumping station

The Château d’eau was initially powered by a powerful steam pumping apparatus, installed on the west side of the intersection where the Hồ Chí Minh City branch office of the Ministry of Education and Training now stands. However, the electrification of the pumping mechanism in 1910 facilitated the redevelopment of that site, initially as the headquarters of the Commissariat de Police for the 3rd Arrondissement.

As Saigon’s population grew, the old water supply network proved inadequate and the city began to experience frequent water shortages. Eventually, in 1918, work began on the creation of a new municipal potable water system, comprising waterworks in Saigon and Chợ Lớn, linked to wells in Phú Thọ, Tân Sơn Nhất and Gò Vấp. When that was completed in 1921, the old Château d’eau was demolished.

Chateau d'eau 2

The Usine des eaux de Saigon, built in 1918-1921

The Usine des Eaux de Saigon of 1921 incorporated a large water tower which may still be seen today, along with several other old waterworks buildings, in the block bordered by Võ Văn Tần, Pasteur, Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai and Phạm Ngọc Thạch streets in Hồ Chí Minh City’s District 1.

Unlike many colonial artefacts in the city, this one was recently declared a heritage site by the Saigon Water Company SAWACO, and its future now looks secure.

In November 1921, the Rond-point du Château d’eau, where the original water tower had stood, was renamed place Maréchal Joffre, in anticipation of the visit of Marshal Joffre to Sài Gòn a month later. On 11 November 1927, a Monument aux Morts de la Grande Guerre (Great War memorial and cenotaph) was built at the centre of the roundabout, surrounded by a small lake.

Monument Aux Morts de la Grande Guerre

The Monument aux Morts de la Grande Guerre was installed on the former Rond-point du Château d’eau in November 1927

The Monument aux Morts \was partially destroyed during a demonstration in 1964, although the  intersection continued to be known in Vietnamese as Soldiers’ Square (Công trường Chiến sĩ) until the installation of the current “Turtle Lake” monument in the late 1960s.

Another survivor of Saigon’s early water supply network infrastructure is the attractive old villa at 3 Phạm Ngọc Thạch, on the junction with Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai street, which was originally built as the director’s residence of the Indochina Water and Electricity Company (Compagnie des Eaux et d’Électricité d’Indochine).

It currently serves as the headquarters of the Institute of Transport Science and Technology, Southern Branch Office (Phân viện Khoa học và Công nghệ Giao thông Vận tải phía Nam).

Chateau d'eau 3

A “colorised” image of the Château d’eau de Saigon of 1877

603_001 (1)

A streetside water pump in late 19th century Saigon

DSC05476

The Saigon Waterworks tower today

DSC03026

Another view of the Saigon Waterworks tower today

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Date with the Wrecking Ball – Former Bot Catinat, 164 Dong Khoi, 1933

SVHTT TPHCM 1

The main entrance to 164 Đồng Khởi

This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com

Located on a prime site in one of Hồ Chí Minh City’s numerous “đất vàng” (gold land) areas and already earmarked for demolition and redevelopment, the headquarters of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism at 164 Đồng Khởi has a sinister past.

Two images copy

The “Saigon – Hotel des postes” featured in this old postcard was probably the first city post office, the “Poste aux lettres” marked (9) on the 1878 map of Saigon

The 164 Đồng Khởi complex stands on a site which in the 1860s was part of the place Centrale or place de l’Horloge (clock square), an open space next to the first French governor’s palace where most early French government buildings were located.

By the 1870s, the land on which the building now sits was occupied by the first Saigon Post Office.

The mysterious postcard of an unknown building labelled “Saigon – Hotel des postes,” long thought to be a mistake by the photographic studio, is most likely to be the “Poste aux lettres,” which appears on an 1878 map of Saigon.

After the inauguration of the second (current) Post Office building in 1891, the site was redeveloped into three separate properties (162, 164 and 166 rue Catinat). In the 1890s, two of these – 164 and 166 – were acquired by the colonial Treasury (then headquartered across the road on the site of the modern Metropolitan Building) and subsequently became home to various financial departments, including the Recette locale and later the Trésor local.

IMAGE 2

The Trésor – Bureau Métropolitain (right) and the Trésor – Bureau Local (left), viewed from the Cathedral in the early 1900s

However, by 1910, the Commissariat central de Police had taken up residence next door at 162 rue Catinat. In 1917, this police headquarters expanded into 164 rue Catinat, where it subsequently became the Direction de la Police et de la Sûreté. In 1933, the last accountants were moved out of 166 rue Catinat and the entire compound (162, 164 and 166) was rebuilt in its current form as the Sûreté headquarters at 164 rue Catinat.

Known in Vietnamese as Bót Catinat, it developed a fearsome reputation as a place of cruelty; it is said that many of those imprisoned in its cells were tortured before being transferred to the longer-term accommodation of the Maison centrale (Central Prison) on rue de La Grandière, now Lý Tự Trọng street. Located so close to the Cathedral, Bót Catinat was described by unfortunate inmates as “Hell next to heaven.”

164 Catinat 1950

Its “dreary wall… seemed to smell of urine and injustice.” (Graham Greene, The Quiet American) – the Direction de la Police et de la Sûreté, pictured in 1950

A plaque outside the main entrance of the building informs us (in Vietnamese) that immediately after the August Revolution, the Việt Minh flag flew over Bót Catinat from 26 August until 23 September 1945, when, with British support, the French reoccupied Sài Gòn’s public buildings. Thereafter, Bót Catinat resumed its original function.

In the early 1950s, the Sûreté headquarters appeared in British writer Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American as the workplace of Inspector Vigot, the French detective responsible for investigating the death of American agent Pyle.

Like Greene himself when he lived in Saigon, the novel’s anti-hero Thomas Fowler took a daily constitutional up rue Catinat, “to where the hideous pink cathedral blocked the way.” On one such walk, Fowler describes “the dreary wall of the Vietnamese Sûreté that seemed to smell of urine and injustice.”

120 164 Dong Khoi 1965

The South Vietnamese Interior Ministry (Bộ Nội vụ) at 164 Tự Do, pictured in 1965

After the departure of the French in 1954, 164 rue Catinat was refurbished and in 1955 it was transformed into the South Vietnamese Interior Ministry (Bộ Nội vụ) at 164 Tự Do. Since Reunification, it has served as the headquarters of the Department of Culture and Information (1977) and subsequently the Department of Culture, Information, Sport and Tourism (1990) at 164 Đồng Khởi. The building still retains its old basement prison cells, although it has never been opened to the public as a historic monument.

According to a recent Dân trí newspaper article, the block on which 164 Đồng Khởi stands – a 9,700m² site enclosed by Đồng Khởi, Nguyễn Du and Lý Tự Trọng streets and bordering the Trần Đại Nghĩa Specialist High School – is to be redeveloped to accommodate “services, culture, luxury hotels, finance offices, exhibition areas.” New buildings on the site will be limited to a height of 100m (approximately 25 storeys), with a four-storey limit on the Nguyễn Du-Đồng Khởi junction opposite the Cathedral.

1 The former Sûreté HQ at 164 Đồng Khởi

The Department of Culture, Information, Sport and Tourism at 164 Đồng Khởi today

Dân trí also reports that the decision not to conserve the old Bót Catinat building was made in accordance with the recommendations of its current occupant, the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which nonetheless suggested that efforts be made to preserve “a few artefacts, if there are any,” to build a model of Bót Catinat and to create a plaque describing its history for display somewhere in the area bordering Nguyễn Du street.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Saigon’s Earliest Museums

BT Lich su TPHCM 1

The Việt Nam History Museum in Hồ Chí Minh City

One of the last museums to be set up in French Indochina, the Việt Nam History Museum in Hồ Chí Minh City was over 60 years in the making.

As early as 1866, under the auspices of Admiral-Governor Pierre-Paul de La Grandière (1863-1868), archaeological artefacts were collected by colonial government officials from ancient Khmer and Chàm sites with a view to public display in Saigon, but in the absence of a suitable building, they had to be placed in store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The Bulletin de la Société des études Indochinoises

Nothing was then done until January 1882, when the Colonial Council approved a proposal by a Professor Milne-Edwards to establish a “Musée d’études” (Study museum) in Saigon.

A year later, the Société des études Indochinoises (Society of Indochina Studies) was set up to carry out archaeological, artistic, ethnographic, religious, historic and geographic research on Indochina and the Far East, to publish a scholarly journal known as the Bulletin de la Société des études Indochinoises, and to encourage the Cochinchina government to establish a permanent home for its collections.

However, the project to establish a museum quickly ground to a halt. In 1884, the French Naval Ministry decided that funds earmarked for the “Study museum” should instead be used to create an exhibition hall for displaying agricultural and other trade products. By 1887, that project was also abandoned when the hall building had to be repurposed as a palace for the newly-downgraded Lieutenant Governors of Cochinchina (see Foulhoux’s Saigon).

The first Société des Études Indochinoises headquarters building on the junction of rue de La Grandière (Lý Tự Trọng) and rue Nationale (Hai Bà Trưng) is marked in red in this 1898 map of Saigon

In fact, Saigon did not get a museum until 1888. In that year, two rooms of the Société des Études Indochinoises headquarters building – a Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) villa at 16 rue de La Grandière (Lý Tự Trọng) on the junction with Rue Nationale (Hai Bà Trưng) – were opened to the public as a small museum which housed a collection of Chàm sculptures donated to the Society by the Resident-Superior of Annam.

A decade later in 1898, the Mission archéologique d’Indo-Chine, forerunner of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), was founded, with its headquarters on Saigon’s rue Nationale (now Hai Bà Trưng street). In 1900 this organisation opened a second museum at 140 rue Pellerin (Pasteur street). This became home to a collection of ancient inscriptions and fragments brought from Cambodia and Champa, along with the long-stored artefacts collected in 1866 by representatives of Admiral-Governor de la Grandière. In 1904, the collection of this EFEO museum was expanded following a generous donation of sculptures and statues by Général de Beylié, Commandant of the 3rd Brigade. However, the EFEO museum in Saigon was short-lived; with the EFEO office relocated to Hà Nội as early as 1902, the museum was also closed in 1905 and most of the collection was then relocated to Phnom Penh.

Old Museum

From 1917 to 1925, the Société des Études Indochinoises opened a museum in the former Hôtel du Contrôle financier building at 12 boulevard Norodom (Lê Duẩn)

Despite frequent funding problems, the small Société des Études Indochinoises museum at 16 rue de La Grandière continued in existence until 1917, when the MEP took back the villa to use as a hostel for its teachers at the nearby Institution Taberd.

The Société then relocated to new premises – an office at 1 rue Sohier (now 170 Nguyễn Văn Thủ street) in Đa Kao and a museum space in the former Hôtel du Contrôle financier at 12 boulevard Norodom (Lê Duẩn), right opposite the Cercle des Officiers.

However, just eight years later, the Société was forced to close its museum at 12 boulevard Norodom too, because “the rent exceeded its modest resources.” From 1925 to 1928, part of the collection was placed on view in a small Musée archéologique (Archaeological museum) at the Société’s rue Sohier headquarters.

6815885857_5f4e533294_o

An aerial view of the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse

By this time, most other Indochinese cities already had government-run museums – Hà Nội’s had been set up in 1909, Phnom Penh’s and Tourane’s in 1919, and Huế’s in 1923 – and the continued lack of a proper museum in Saigon had become something of an embarrassment.

The event which finally spurred the French authorities to set up a museum for Cochinchina was the death in 1927 of naval pharmacist and collector Dr Victor-Thomas Holbé. Concerned that his large Asiatic art collection should not be broken up and sold at auction, the Société des Études Indochinoises agreed to solicit subscriptions to purchase it for the sum of 45,000 piastres and then to bequeath it to the government, in an attempt to persuade the authorities to build the collection a proper home.

This strategy worked, for on 24 November 1927, Cochinchina Governor Paul-Marie Blanchard de la Brosse (1926-1929) signed a decree establishing the Musée de Saigon.

musee_blanchard

From 1956 to 1975, the building served as the National Museum of Việt Nam

Designed by architect Auguste Delaval and cited as one of only two examples of the hybrid “Oriental” or “Indochinois” architectural style to be found in the southern capital, the new museum building was constructed in 1928. Pending its completion, the Société des Études Indochinoises opened a second exhibition hall at 2 place Maréchal Joffre (now Turtle Lake), where the Holbé collection was housed temporarily under the title “Musée d’art Extrême-Oriental.”

Both collections were relocated to the new building in December 1928 and the Cochinchina museum was inaugurated on 1 January 1929 as the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse, named after the Governor who had approved its construction. For the remainder of the colonial period, responsibility for the scientific control of the museum was entrusted to EFEO. On 16 May 1956, the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse became the National Museum of Việt Nam (Viện bảo tàng Quốc gia Việt Nam) under the South Vietnamese Ministry of Education. A U-shaped extension surrounding an ornamental lake was built in 1970 to a design by architect Nguyễn Bá Lăng. Since Reunification, the museum has served as the Hồ Chí Minh City branch of the Việt Nam History Museum.

12 Le Duan

The former Hôtel du Contrôle financier building at 12 Lê Duẩn in 2010, before its demolition

Today, the former Musée Blanchard de la Brosse building is the only one of the city’s numerous museum buildings to survive. The second Société des Études Indochinoises headquarters at 1 rue Sohier (170 Nguyễn Văn Thủ) was rebuilt in the 1930s, while the former EFEO headquarters at 140 Pasteur was redeveloped in the 1990s. The villa at 16 Lý Tự Trọng survived until quite recently as an up-market French restaurant but was then demolished to make way for a boutique hotel, which, at the time of writing, is still under construction.

As for the former Hôtel du Contrôle financier at 12 Lê Duẩn, this elegant old building – latterly owned by Petrolimex – was demolished in 2010 to make way for the “Lavenue Crown” development. According to a 2011 article in Tuổi Trẻ newspaper, an architect convinced the authorities that the 1890s building was a fairly recent “faux-colonial” structure and therefore had no heritage value.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Old Saigon Building of the Week – Petrus Ky Mausoleum and Memorial House, 1937

IMG_2466

The Pétrus Ký Mausoleum

Jean-Baptiste Pétrus Trương Vĩnh Ký (1837-1898) was a man of remarkable intellect who wrote many scholarly works and made an important contribution to the spread of quốc ngữ (Romanised Vietnamese) literature. Rarely visited by foreign tourists, his mausoleum and memorial house on the corner of Trần Hưng Đạo and Trần Bình Trọng streets in Hồ Chí Minh City’s District 5 is well worth a look.

petrus ky

Jean-Baptiste Pétrus Trương Vĩnh Ký (1837-1898)

Born the third son of the chief of Cái Mơn village in rural Vĩnh Long (now Bến Tre) Province, Pétrus Ký was brought up by Catholic priests following the disappearance of his father while on a royal mission to Cambodia. Ký subsequently studied for the priesthood at Pinhalu Seminary in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and at the Pontifical Seminary in Pulau Pinang (Malaysia), but cut short his studies and returned home in 1858 on the death of his mother.

At this time the Nguyễn court had intensified its suppression of Catholicism, making it impossible for Ký to resume his studies and dangerous for him to remain at home, so he took refuge at the house of French Bishop Dominique Lefèbvre, where he was employed by the Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris (Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, MEP) until 1860. In that year, as the French conquest of the south got under way, he entered colonial service as an interpreter.

choquan 1889

An 1889 drawing of Pétrus Ký’s house in Chợ Quán

In 1861 Ký married Vương Thị Thọ, daughter of an elder of Nhơn Giang village in Chợ Quán. After acquiring land in the parish, he built on it the spacious wooden-framed residence which still stands today.

As the French took control in the south, Ký’s career prospered. In 1863 he was appointed as interpreter for a royal delegation to France (1863-1864) led by royal mandarin Phan Thanh Giản. During the trip he met with several leading French statesmen, as well as cultural figures like lexicographer and philosopher Émile Littré (1801–1881), philosopher and writer Joseph Renan (1823–1892) and poet, novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo (1802-1885). The delegation visited Portugal, Spain and Italy, where they were granted an audience with the Pope in Rome. Before returning home, it is said that Ký even visited Britain and Egypt.

12809497515_df2e5b72ff_o

A late colonial aerial photo of the École normale (Normal school) where Pétrus Ký once worked

During the years 1866-1876, Ký taught successively at the Collège des Interprètes (College of Interpreters), the École normale (Normal school) and the Collège des administrateurs stagiaires (Trainee administrators’ college) in Saigon. During this period he specialised in oriental languages, but he also wrote many books aimed at encouraging cultural understanding between the Vietnamese and the European colonial settlers.

In the 1870s Pétrus Ký served on the Sài Gon Municipal Council and also undertook an important assignment in Tonkin. In 1883 he was appointed as an Officier of the French Academy. However, he is said to have repeatedly declined the offer of French naturalisation.

In 1885, following the departure of the young king Hàm Nghi from court to become the figurehead of the anti-colonial Cần Vương uprising, the French installed his brother Đồng Khánh on the throne.

petrus-ky03

Pétrus Ký pictured in the 1880s

Early in the following year, at the request of his old friend Paul Bert who had recently been appointed as Résident Général of Annam and Tonkin, Pétrus Ký became a colonial government observer within Đồng Khánh’s inner council. However, Ký worked in Huế for just six months – in November 1886 Bert died suddenly of cholera, and soon afterwards Ký was discredited by other members of the mission and fell from favour at court.

He returned to his house in Chợ Quán to teach and write, but his later years were unhappy ones, marred by illness and debt. When Ký died on 1 September 1898, he was buried in the garden of his house. Thereafter, other members of the family were also buried here and part of the compound became the family cemetery.

Gia_Định_báo

Together with Ernest Potteaux, Pétrus Ký founded the first quốc ngữ newspaper, Gia Định báo

Fluent in at least 10 different languages, Ký left more than 100 works of literature, history and geography, as well as various dictionaries and translated works. His short piece Souvenirs historiques sur Saïgon et ses environs, conférences au collège des Interprètes (Excursions et Reconnaissances, mai-juin 1885, Saïgon) is required reading for historians of colonial Saigon. As early as 1873-1874, Ký was cited by the Grand Larousse du XIXe siècle encyclopaedic dictionary as one of 18 world-famous writers of the 19th century.

Pétrus Ký was passionate about quốc ngữ (Romanised Vietnamese) literature. Together with Ernest Potteaux, he founded the first quốc ngữ newspaper, Gia Định báo (1865-1910) and he is also considered to have helped lay the foundations for the development of Vietnamese-language newspaper journalism. In 1888-1889 he published his own academic journal, Miscellanées.

statue02

The inauguration of a statue to Pétrus Ký behind the Cathedral on 19 December 1927

On 19 December 1927, in the 30th anniversary year of his death, a statue of Ký by “master sculptor Constant Roux” was erected in the gardens behind the Notre Dame Cathedral – this was removed in 1975 but may still be seen today in the rear courtyard of the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum.

To coincide with the installation of the statue, the Ernest Hébrard-designed Collège de Cochinchine on rue Nancy (now the Lê Hồng Phong Specialist Secondary School on Nguyễn Văn Cừ street) was renamed the Lycée Pétrus Ký. The easternmost section of the boulevard de Ceinture (now Lê Hồng Phong street) in Chợ Quán was subsequently renamed “rue Pétrus-Ky” and a station named “Pétrus Ký” was built on the newly-installed Galliéni electric tramway line at the intersection of rue Pétrus-Ky and Galliéni boulevard (Trần Hưng Đạo street).

IMG_8925

The main entrance to the Pétrus Ký Mausoleum

In 1935-1937, in the run-up to the centenary of Pétrus Ký’s birth, the Société d’enseignement mutuel de la Cochinchine raised funds to build a western classical-style mausoleum in Ký’s honour, enclosing his grave. Accessed through a traditional three-entrance gate, the Pétrus Ký Mausoleum is a simple but distinctive polygonal structure with three gates on the northern, western and southern sides. Above the gates on three sides of the building may be found Latin inscriptions from the Vulgate Bible:

Miseremini mei saltem vos, amici mei (Have pity on me, at least you, my friends – Job chapter 19, verse 21)
Fons vitae eruditio possidentis (Understanding is a fount of life to those who have it – Proverbs chapter 16, verse 22)
Omnis qui vivit et credit in me non morietur in aeternum – Evangelium Sancti Johannis (Everyone that liveth and believeth in Me shall have everlasting life – John chapter 11, verse 25)

IMG_1481

The interior of the Pétrus Ký Mausoleum

The interior of the mausoleum is decorated mainly in light blue, with a striking blue and gold dragon motif painted onto the white ceiling. Beneath the tiled floor lie three tombs – those of Trương Vĩnh Ký in the centre, his wife Maria Trương Vĩnh Ký, née Vương Thị Thọ (died 17 July 1907) on the left and his eldest son Jean-Baptiste Trương Vĩnh Thế (died 26 October 1916) on the right. An alcove in the eastern wall behind the tombs houses an elegant white and gold altar.

Pétrus Ký’s Chọ Quán residence was also restored during the period 1935-1937 and part of it was transformed into a memorial house, complete with a bust of Pétrus Ký and cabinets to house his personal library of books and manuscripts, as well as copies of his correspondence with Renan, Littré and Hugo. A second bust was also ceremoniously installed in the courtyard of the Lycée Pétrus Ký.

IMG_8932

The Pétrus Ký Memorial House, built in 1861

Many of the original documents are now held overseas. However, the bust remains, along with a royal honour awarded to Ký by King Đồng Khánh and an old photograph showing the Governor of Cochinchina and other senior colons joining Ký’s descendants at the mausoleum inauguration ceremony in 1937.

The Trương Vĩnh Ký Mausoleum and Memorial House (Lăng và Nhà lưu niệm Trương Vĩnh Ký) is located at 520 Trần Hưng Đạo street in Hồ Chí Minh City’s District 5. The compound in which the mausoleum is situated houses a café and is open daily from 9am-11am and from 1.30pm-6pm. As yet the mausoleum has not been afforded official recognition as a cultural and historic monument and parts of the compound are in urgent need of restoration.

For other articles relating to Petrus Ky, see
“A Visit to Petrus-Ky,” from En Indo-Chine 1894-1895
What Future for Petrus Ky’s Mausoleum and Memorial House?
Petrus Ky – Historical Memories of Saigon and its Environs, 1885, Part 1
Petrus Ky – Historical Memories of Saigon and its Environs, 1885, Part 2
Petrus Ky – Historical Memories of Saigon and its Environs, 1885, Part 3

proxy

An early photo of Pétrus Ký

Petrus ky and students copy

Another early photo of Pétrus Ký and his students

IMG_1499

Access to the compound is via a traditional three-entrance gateway

IMG_1497

The west side of the Pétrus Ký Mausoleum

IMG_1482

The Pétrus Ký Mausoleum contains the graves of  Pétrus Ký (centre), his wife Maria Trương Vĩnh Ký (left) and his eldest son Jean-Baptiste Trương Vĩnh Thế (right)

IMG_8917

The Pétrus Ký Memorial House contains a bust of Pétrus Ký, plus cabinets which once housed his personal library of books and manuscripts

IMG_1491

An old photograph of the Mausoleum inauguration ceremony in 1928

DSC05482

The statue of Pétrus Ký which once stood in the gardens behind the Notre Dame Cathedral may still be seen today in the rear compound of the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Old Saigon Building of the Week – Vietnam Railways Building, 1914

IMG_9566

The Vietnam Railways building today

This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com

The iconic Bến Thành Market is not the only Saigon landmark currently celebrating its 100th birthday – this week we take a look at the history of the Vietnam Railways building at 138 Hàm Nghi, which also opened in 1914.

When construction of the southernmost section of the Transindochinois (North-South) railway line got under way in 1904, it was envisaged that the existing terminus of the Saigon-Mỹ Tho line at the riverside end of rue de Canton (modern Hàm Nghi boulevard) would serve both lines. However, when the first northbound trains began operating, the colonial authorities realised that a larger station was required (for a more detailed history of the railway station, see The changing faces of Saigon railway station).

Place Cuniac 4

An early 20th century image of the Chemins de fer de l’Indochine (CFI) building with the Halles centrales in the background

In 1910, a scheme was drawn up under Saigon mayor Eugène Cuniac to reroute both railway lines as they entered the city centre, building a larger Sài Gòn Railway Station in reclaimed swamp land to the west and demolishing an old locomotive depot to free up land for the construction of a new central market and spacious city square.

The project was beset by delays, but the Halles centrales (modern Bến Thành Market) finally opened on place Eugène Cuniac (now Quách Thị Trang square) in March 1914 and the second railway station on the site of today’s 23-9 Park in September 1915.

As part of this scheme, the Chemins de fer de l’Indochine (CFI) built itself an imposing new southern region railway headquarters on place Eugène Cuniac, right opposite the station entrance. It was inaugurated in 1914, a full year before the opening of the new railway station. Each level of the ornate three-storey building incorporates a spacious outer corridor which shields the offices from the heat of the external walls.

Hotel du Chemin de fer

A colorised late colonial image of the CFI building

In May 1952, when CFI became the Việt Nam Department of Railways (Sở Hỏa xa Việt Nam, HXVN), the railway building became its southern branch headquarters. Just three years later, HXVN became the southern rail operating company, responsible to the South Vietnamese Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

During the 1960s the railway headquarters acquired a certain notoriety after the sidewalk outside the building was turned into a place of execution.

Today the building functions as the Hồ Chí Minh City branch office of Vietnam Railways.

6044792236_a89b50a2c3_o

Colonial taxi rank

18 CFI Building

Another colorised late colonial image of the CFI building

16 CFI Building

A 1960s shot of the building as the headquarters of Hỏa xa Việt Nam (HXVN)

26 Hoa xa VN execution site

During the 1960s the sidewalk outside the building became a place of execution

IMG_9555

A present-day shot of the façade of the Vietnam Railways building

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

Tim Doling is also the author of The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 2012) and conducts 16-day and 13-day Việt Nam Rail Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn, and Rail Thing – Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam for more information about Việt Nam’s railway history and all the latest news from Vietnam Railways.