This article was published previously in Saigoneer http://saigoneer.com
The grand old villa at 606 Trần Hưng Đạo, one of Chợ Quán’s few remaining heritage buildings, is currently threatened with redevelopment.
According to local historians, 606 Trần Hưng Đạo was once the site of an old Khmer pagoda, but by 1932 that had been demolished to make way for the current building, an elegant villa built for the state-franchised charity lottery company known as the Société pour l’amélioration morale, intellectuelle et physique des indigènes de Cochinchine (SAMIPIC).
Founded in 1926 and run by a committee which “grouped together the élite of Annamite society” (Gazette coloniale, 1936), SAMIPIC sold 2-piastre lottery tickets to the public and then donated a substantial part of its income to charitable, health and educational causes in Cochinchine. It also “organised conferences, and every year offered a number of scholarships in France and in the colony to the most deserving students.”
SAMIPIC’s achievements included setting up the Maison des Associations Annamites in Saigon in 1929 and funding the construction of the “Maison indochinoise” at the Cité Universitaire de Paris, which was inaugurated on 22 March 1930 by French President Gaston Doumergue and the young King Bảo Đại.
SAMIPIC was housed initially in a small villa near the Parc Maurice Long [today’s Tao Đàn Park], but on 16 February 1933, La Croix newspaper reported the inauguration of its brand new headquarters at 96 boulevard Galliéni (now 606 Trần Hưng Đạo). The building was later described as “superb,” with “magnificent decor” (Écho annamite, 6 September 1941).
After the departure of the French in 1954, the villa was acquired by the American government and became home to the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), which co-ordinated the supply of military hardware, training and assistance to the French and subsequently to the Republic of Việt Nam. Because of its high profile, the villa was one of three US installations in the city targeted by the National Liberation Front on 22 October 1957.
In February 1962, following the arrival of the first US Army aviation units, MAAG became part of the Military Assistance Command Việt Nam (MACV), which was set up to provide a more integrated command structure with full responsibility for all US military activities and operations in Việt Nam.
At first, MACV staff shared the villa at 606 Trần Hưng Đạo with their MAAG colleagues, but in May 1962 they were given separate accommodation on Pasteur street (see 137 Pasteur). From that date until 1966, the villa at 606 Trần Hưng Đạo was known as “MACV II.” MAAG survived as a separate entity until May 1964, when its functions were fully integrated into MACV.
In 1966, following the transfer of all MACV operations to the new “Pentagon East” complex at Tân Sơn Nhất Air Base, the villa at 606 Trần Hưng Đạo was vacated by the Americans and became the headquarters of the Republic of Korea Forces Vietnam (ROKFV), which remained at the villa until the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.
The villa at 606 Trần Hưng Đạo is currently home to several local businesses. However, according to reliable sources, there are plans to demolish it and replace it with a new office block.
You may also be interested to read these articles:
In Search of Saigon’s American War Vestiges
American War Vestiges in Saigon – 60 Vo Van Tan
American War Vestiges in Saigon – 137 Pasteur
American War Vestiges in Saigon – Former “Free World” HQ
American War Vestiges in Saigon – Former USIS Headquarters
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.