Saigon’s Famous Streets and Squares – Pasteur Street

Rue Pellerin in the period 1910-1920

This article was published previously in Saigoneer.

Known for most of the colonial period as rue Pellerin, Pasteur street grew from ancient inner-city waterway into one of the city’s most desirable streets.

Pasteur street began life as part of Saigon’s old inner-city waterway network.

Pasteur street was originally part of Saigon’s ancient inner-city waterway network

The lower end of the street was originally a canal which ran north from the arroyo Chinois (Bến Nghé creek) to the modern Lê Lợi-Pasteur intersection, where it connected with the “Junction Canal” leading east to the shipyard. It also met the “Crocodile Bridge Canal,” now the lower end of Hàm Nghi boulevard. See The lost inner-city waterways of Saigon and Cholon, Part 1 – Saigon.

Following the arrival of the French, the quaysides flanking this canal were both initially denoted as rue No 24. However, by 1863 the quayside on the west bank of the canal was named rue Ollivier (after Ollivier de Puymanel, 1768-1799, a naval officer who came to Saigon with Pigneau de Béhaine to help modernise the army of Nguyễn Phúc Ánh), while the one on its east bank was named rue Pellerin (after Monsignor François-Marie-Henri-Agathon Pellerin, 1812-1862, first Apostolic Vicar of Cochinchina).

In the early 1870s the lower end of the street was a broad tree-lined avenue named boulevard Ollivier

In 1868, rue Pellerin was extended north through the city as far as the rue du Marché de Tan-Dinh (now Trần Quốc Toản street, still its northernmost perimeter today). In the years which followed, long rows of shophouses were built between the modern Hàm Nghi and Lê Lợi junctions, to accommodate the large number of Cantonese settlers moving into the area.

By 1870, the canal had been filled and replaced by a broad tree-lined avenue named boulevard Ollivier, which ran from the quai de Belgique (Võ Văn Kiệt) on the Bến Nghé creek as far north as boulevard Bonnard (Lê Lợi). This boulevard Ollivier survived until around 1875, when it was narrowed and became the lower end of rue Pellerin.

Eiffel’s Pont des Messageries maritimes

In 1882, that lower end of rue Pellerin was connected to Khánh Hội (District 4) and the Messageries maritimes international port area by “a magnificent bridge over the arroyo Chinois” (Notices coloniales, 1885) – today a footbridge, the Maison Eiffel’s Pont des Messageries maritimes or Cầu Mống (Rainbow Bridge) is now one of Hồ Chí Minh City’s most important historic monuments. See The “Rainbow Bridge” – a true Eiffel classic.

The arrival of the first Tamils from the French Indian Settlements of Pondicherry (Puducherry), Karikal and Yanaon in the 1880s was followed by the construction of the Sri Thendayutthapani Hindu temple on the junction of rue Pellerin and rue Ohier. See Saigon’s famous streets and squares: Tôn Thất Thiệp street. By the early 1900s, this Indian community had overflowed onto rue Pellerin, where several Tamil shops and money lending houses were established.

The bronze statue of French statesman Léon Gambetta, installed at the junction with boulevard Norodom in 1889

In 1889, a grand square was created at the junction of rue Pellerin and boulevard Norodom (Lê Duẩn). At its centre, paid for by public subscription, was installed a bronze statue of French statesman Léon Gambetta (1838-1882). The statue remained there until 1914 when, following the inauguration of the new Halles centrales (Bến Thành Market), it was relocated to the centre of the new public garden which replaced the former city market on boulevard Charner (Nguyễn Huệ),

By the early 1900s, the upper reaches of rue Pellerin had became a very desirable residential area, with many large villas on either side. During the 1960s, one of the grandest of these villas – 161 Pasteur – famously became the private residence of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, President of the Republic of Việt Nam from 1967 to 1975.

161 Pasteur, former residence of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, President of the Republic of Việt Nam from 1967 to 1975

During the 1920s, a small park was established on the west side of rue Pellerin, between the junctions of rue Testard (later Trần Quý Cáp, now Võ Văn Tần) and rue Richaud (later Phan Đình Phùng, now Nguyễn Đình Chiểu). Known from 1939 to 1954 as the square Paul Doumer, it was renamed Vạn Xuân Park (Công viên Vạn Xuân) in 1955. Before 1975, a small sports facility was opened here by the Club Sportif Phan Đình Phùng. In the 1980s the whole park was replaced by today’s much larger Phan Đình Phùng Sports Centre.

The first Pasteur Institute to be established outside the métropole was set up in 1891 within the grounds of Saigon’s Military Hospital, but in 1905 it was given dedicated premises at 167 rue Pellerin; the current buildings date from a reconstruction of 1918. During its long history, the Pasteur Institut Saigon has carried out pioneering work in many fields, including the study of parasitic, bacterial food-borne and mosquito-borne diseases, lice infestation and leprosy.

The Pasteur Institute Sài Gòn in the 1940s

Back in 1897, modern Thái Văn Lung street had been christened rue Pasteur. However, in 1955, it was renamed Đồn Đất and the name đường Pasteur was transferred to rue Pellerin, in honour of the great scientific institution located at its upper end.

After Reunification in 1975, Pasteur street was rechristened Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, but in 1991 that name was transferred elsewhere and the old name Pasteur street was reinstated.

The Vạn Xuân Park, pictured in 1964 by Don Elsom

Surviving shophouses on lower Pasteur street 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.

Old Saigon Building of the Week – 86 Vo Van Tan, Late 1920s

The courtyard of Fernand Nadal’s old mansion at 86 Võ Văn Tần, now a restaurant

This article was published previously in Saigoneer.

The ornate mansion on the corner of the Bà Huyện Thanh Quan and Võ Văn Tần junction was once the private residence of celebrated photographer Fernand Nadal, whose old sepia postcard images of the city are now collectors’ items.

The Photo Nadal Studio at 150 rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi) in the mid 1920s

A native of Algeria, Nadal arrived in Indochina in the early 1920s, and by 1922 he had opened the Photo Nadal Studio at 150 rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi), close to the junction with rue d’Espagne (Lê Thánh Tôn). A few years later, he relocated his business to 118-120 rue Catinat, part of the block now occupied by the Sheraton Hotel complex.

Nadal employed a European and six Vietnamese staff, and his promotional materials advertised a photographic salon and sale of photographic articles and products, including his famous sepia postcards and a number of printed photographic albums.

One of Nadal’s famous sepia postcards – Rue de Canton, Cholon, Album Nadal 1926

He was commissioned to do various photographic projects for both government and private clients, and between 1929 and 1931 a selection of his photographs was published in Le Monde colonial illustré. By the 1930s, he also had a branch studio in Phnom Penh and was the proprietor of rubber plantations in Biên Hoà and Thủ Dầu Một provinces.

The mansion at 86 rue Testard (now Võ Văn Tần) was built for Nadal in the late 1920s and it remained his home for at least 10 years. In recent years the building has been modified, but much of the original architecture remains intact. It serves currently as both a residence and a restaurant.

In recent years the building has been modified

The main entrance to 86 Võ Văn Tần on the Võ Văn Tần and Bà Huyện Thanh Quan junction

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 Famous Streets and Squares – Le Duan Boulevard

Boulevard Norodom, view looking east from the Palais du Gouvernement général (1895), by André Salles

This article was published previously in Saigoneer.

When it was first laid out in 1870, the broad avenue we know today as Lê Duản was christened boulevard Norodom, after the Cambodian monarch who in 1863 had entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the French.

The Palais du Gouvernement général

Located immediately in front of the Palais du Gouvernement général (built 1868-1873) and described as “a beautiful avenue lined with tamarind trees,” boulevard Norodom was initially quite short, stretching only from the palace to the top end of rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi).

However, following the construction of the Caserne de l’Infanterie (Colonial infantry barracks) in the grounds of the old citadel in 1870-1872, the street was extended eastward in two stages – as far as rue de Bangkok (Mạc Đĩnh Chi) in 1874 and then all the way to the Botanical and Zoological Gardens in 1887-1888.

The Caserne de l’Infanterie

Boulevard Norodom incorporated two squares – one immediately behind the Cathedral (1880), which was used on a weekly basis during the colonial era for reviewing French troops, and the other at the junction of rue Pellerin (Pasteur), which from 1889-1914 incorporated an imposing statue of French statesman Léon Gambetta.

Early landmarks on the boulevard included the Cercle des Officiers (1876, now the District 1 People’s Committee) and the Hôtel du général (1879, now the French Consulate General).

The Conseil de guerre

Those buildings were later joined by the Conseil de guerre (1902, located on the site of the US Consulate), the Hôtel du Contrôle financier (1902, recently demolished to make way for the “Lavenue Crowne” development), the Protestant Chapel (1904, now part of District 1 Cultural Centre), the Compagnie Franco-Asiatique des Pétroles headquarters (early 1930s, now Petrolimex), the Maison du combattant (currently the Kiến Thiết Lottery Company, scheduled for demolition) and the Foyer du Soldat et du Marin (1937, now the Hồ Chí Minh Campaign Museum).

Ngô Đình Diệm used the old Palais du Gouvernement général as his presidential residence

Following the departure of the French, boulevard Norodom was renamed Thống Nhất boulevard by the Ngô Đình Diệm administration.

Over the next eight years, with the old Palais du Gouvernement général serving as Diệm’s presidential residence and the former French infantry barracks functioning as the headquarters of his elite republican guard, it continued to be used on a regular basis for troop reviews and military parades. However, after the overthrow of Diệm in 1963, the barracks was redeveloped for civilian usage, bringing the street’s military function to an end.

The Independence Palace designed by Ngô Viết Thụ

Bombed during a failed coup attempt in February 1962, the former Palais du Gouvernement général was rebuilt in 1962-1966 to a modernist design by architect Ngô Viết Thụ. Inaugurated on 31 October 1966, this new Independence Palace served as the RVN’s seat of government until April 1975.

After 1967, the site of the earlier Conseil de guerre building at 4 Thống Nhất boulevard became home to the Embassy of the United States of America, which had been transferred here from its earlier more vulnerable location at 39 Hàm Nghi, following a devastating car-bomb attack on 30 March 1965.

The second US Embassy in 1971 by Dennis Hancock

Since 1975, the street has been named after former Communist Party General Secretary Lê Duẩn (1907-1986). No longer forming a grand approach to a seat of government as it did in its first 100 years of existence, this famous Saigon street has now become a much sought-after “gold land” site, home to museums, consulates, government buildings and a range of mixed use developments, including hotels, office towers and shopping centres.

Saigon – perspective du boulevard Norodom

The Cercle des Officiers pictured in the late 1870s with the Cathedral under construction in the background

The Hôtel du général

Another view of the Caserne de l’Infanterie on boulevard Norodom

Lê Duẩn boulevard 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.

Saigon’s Famous Streets and Squares – Ton That Thiep Street

During the colonial period, Tôn Thất Thiệp street was officially known as rue Ohier, but its popular name was “rue des Malabars,” after the large Tamil community which settled here from the 1880s onwards

This article was published previously in Saigoneer.

One of the oldest streets in Saigon, Tôn Thất Thiệp street was known in the early French colonial period firstly as rue No 9 and then from 1863 as rue de l’Église, after Saigon’s ill-fated first Roman Catholic Cathedral, which was built at its junction with boulevard Charner (Nguyễn Huệ).

Saigon’s first purpose-built cathedral, the Église Sainte-Marie-Immaculée (Church of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception), which once stood at the junction of modern Tôn Thất Thiệp street and Nguyễn Huệ boulevard (now the site of the Sun Wah Tower)

Constructed from timber, that first Cathedral had to be demolished in the early 1870s due to termite infestation. As plans got underway to build a replacement brick cathedral on the present site, the future Tôn Thất Thiệp street was rechristened rue Ohier, after Rear Admiral Marie Gustave Hector Ohier, who served as Governor of Cochinchine from 1868 to 1869.

During the 1880s, large numbers of Tamils from the French Indian Settlements of Pondicherry (Puducherry), Karikal and Yanaon began arriving in Saigon, and the rue d’Ohier was gradually transformed into one of the city’s largest communities of “Malabars” or “Chettyars,” many of whom made a living as moneylenders and financiers.

Tôn Thất Thiệp street appears on this 1864 street map as rue de l’Église

By 1890, the rue d’Ohier was known popularly as the “rue des Malabars,” and government directories from that year onward consistently reveal the entire street to be lined with Tamil businesses, mostly banks and moneylending services.

The current Sri Thendayutthapani Temple at 66 Tôn Thất Thiệp dates from the 1920s, but is believed to have been built on the site of an earlier Hindu temple founded in the late 19th century by the earliest Tamil settlers. The Temple Club, housed in an old colonial residence at 29-31 Tôn Thất Thiệp, is said once to have been the temple’s guest house.

Following the demolition of the first cathedral in the 1870s, the rue de l’Église was renamed rue Ohier; it is shown here on an 1890 street map

After the departure of the French, Saigon’s Tamil businesses continued to make an important contribution to the economic life of the city and the former “rue des Malabars,” renamed Tôn Thất Thiệp street in 1955, continued to be the heart of a vibrant Indian community.

Most of the Tamil community left Saigon before 1975, and the majority of the old colonial shophouse buildings in which they once did business have also been demolished in recent decades.

The annual Thaipusam Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community, pictured outside the Sri Thendayutthapani Temple

However, those interested in the history of Tamil settlement in Saigon may still pay a worthwhile visit to the Sri Thendayutthapani Temple, which houses the lavishly-decorated festival chariot once used every year by the Tamil community of the “rue des Malabars” to carry their Hindu deity in procession around the streets of Saigon during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

Meanwhile, just round the corner in an alley next to 122 Pasteur, is a rather more unusual vestige of Saigon’s former Indian community – the loft where they once kept their pigeons!

Tôn Thất Thiệp street today

Another view of modern Tôn Thất Thiệp street showing the Sri Thendayutthapani Temple

The old loft where members of the Indian community once kept their pigeons

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 Famous Streets and Squares – Quach Thi Trang Square

“Saigon – place du Marché central” (1932)

This article was published previously in Saigoneer.

In this, the first of a new series about the history of the famous streets and squares of Saigon and Chợ Lớn, we look at the history of Quách Thị Trang square.

For the first two decades of French colonial rule, the site now occupied by Quách Thị Trang square formed the easternmost border of a large swamp known as the Marais Boresse.

A comparison of city maps dated 1878, 1898 and 1920 illustrates the development of the site from swamp to railway depot to market square

This was reclaimed in the early 1880s to facilitate construction of the Saigon-Mỹ Tho railway line, which opened in 1885 and ran from a terminus at the riverside end of modern Hàm Nghi boulevard right through the future square site, where a large steam locomotive depot was built.

The 0.322 hectare square we know today was laid out in 1912-1914 as the main market square in front of the new Halles centrales, now Bến Thành Market.

The second Saigon Railway Station opened in 1915 on the southwest side of the square

In order to achieve this, the locomotive depot was demolished and the railway line was rerouted into a new terminus on the southwest side of the square, the area now occupied by 23-9 Park (the Phạm Ngũ Lão backpacker area).

Although it continued to be known for many years as the place du Marché (Market square), in July 1916 the square was officially named as place Eugène-Cuniac, in honour of long-serving former Saigon Mayor Eugène François Jean-Baptiste Cuniac (in office 1890-1891, 1892-1895, 1901-1906 and 1912-1915), one of the key advocates of the new market, who had died earlier that month.

Place Eugène Cuniac pictured in 1929 after the installation of a central roundabout with landscaped gardens (photo by MAP)

The opening of the new Saigon Railway Station in 1915 and of the new Halles centrales electric tramway terminus in 1923 transformed the square into one of the city’s most important transport hubs. Two bus stations – one on the east side of the market and the other on the west – also functioned here until the 1940s.

Place Cuniac remained a simple open space until 1929, when a roundabout with landscaped gardens was installed at its centre.

After 1955, the RVN government renamed place Eugène-Cuniac as công trường Diên Hồng (Diên Hồng square), after the Diên Hồng conference (Hội nghị Diên Hồng) of 1284 – described by some historians as the first democratic gathering held in Việt Nam – which was convened by King Trần Thánh Tông to discuss military strategy in the face of the second Mongol invasion.

The bust of Quách Thị Trang, pictured soon after its installation in August 1964

As protests against the anti-Buddhist policies of the Ngô Đình Diệm administration gathered pace in 1963, Diên Hồng square became a popular venue for dissent. Events took a turn for the worse on 25 August 1963, when 15-year-old Quách Thị Trang was shot dead by police while taking part in a student demonstration there. Twelve months later, a memorial bust of Quách Thị Trang, commissioned by the Saigon Students Association, was installed near the centre of the roundabout, on the spot where Trang had died.

In 1965, the authorities installed an imposing equestrian statue of General Trần Nguyên Hãn (1390-1429) in the centre of the roundabout. A great military leader who helped King Lê Lợi (1384-1433) defeat the invading Ming Chinese and establish the later Lê dynasty, Hãn committed honourable suicide when the king unjustly suspected that he might try to take the throne for himself.

The equestrian statue of General Trần Nguyên Hãn (1390-1429), pictured soon after its installation in 1965

After Reunification, the square was officially renamed quảng trường Quách Thị Trang (Quách Thị Trang square).

Both the General Trần Nguyên Hãn statue and the Quách Thị Trang bust remained in place until last year, when preparations began for the construction of the new Metro Line 1 Bến Thành Station. In December 2014, the Trần Nguyên Hãn statue was moved to Phú Lâm Park in District 6, while the Quách Thị Trang bust was relocated to Lý Tự Trọng Park.

Many are now asking whether the square will now be renamed again, but as yet there has been no official pronouncement on this matter.

Quách Thị Trang square pictured in 2014 before the removal of the General Trần Nguyên Hãn statue and Quách Thị Trang bust

Quách Thị Trang square today looking towards Bến Thành Market, with the railway administration building on the right

Another view of the railway administration building on Quách Thị Trang square

Quách Thị Trang square today with the Hui Bon Hoa building (now the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum) in the background

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.