Date with the Wrecking Ball – Former Cercle des Officiers, 47 Le Duan, 1876


The District 1 People’s Committee Building, originally the Cercle des Officiers

This article was published previously in Saigoneer

In November 2014 it was announced that another old French civic building, featured earlier this year as an “Old Saigon Building of the Week,” would be redeveloped.

The colonial pile at 45-47 Lê Duẩn, right opposite the Diamond Plaza, is one of the oldest surviving French buildings in the city.

Le Cercle des officiers -1870s

The Cercle des officiers in the late 1870s – note the Cathedral under construction in the background

It was built in 1876 at the command of Rear Admiral-Governor Victor Guy Duperré (30 September 1874-30 January 1876) as the Cercle des Officiers or Officers’ Mess, to provide social and recreational facilities for high-ranking members of the French armed forces. The no-nonsense design by the Cochinchina Department of Public Works, typical of the period, features a surrounding verandah and high ceilings to enhance ventilation.

Visiting Saigon in 1882, retired Chief Naval Pharmacist Arthur Delteil described the Cercle des Officiers as “a large two-storey building which owes its existence to the munificence of a Governor, who had it built in order to create a meeting place for officers of all the armed forces.”

Cercle des Officiers A i

The Cercle des officiers in the early 20th century

He continued: “The ground floor is devoted to the marine infantry officers’ mess. On the upper floor there is a library, a reading room, a billiard room and a bar. The subscription is one piastre per month.”

Between 1955 and 1975, the old Cercle des Officiers building was repurposed to house the South Vietnamese Ministry of Justice (Bộ Tư pháp).

Since Reunification it has served as the headquarters of the District 1 People’s Committee (Ủy ban Nhân dân Quận 1). However, on 17 November 2014 it was reported by VNExpress  that following an estimated windfall profit of over 6,000 billion đồng in the current year, the District 1 People’s Committee planned to proceed with the construction of a new administrative centre at 45-47 Lê Duẩn.

UPDATE: After an initial response to public concern which stressed that the building was not a historic, architectural, cultural or artistic vestige and therefore the redevelopment plan did not violate any regulations, an official of the District 1 People’s Committee pledged in an interview with Thanh Niên newspaper on 11 December 2014 that the old building will now be preserved and the new building constructed behind it.


EPSON scanner image

The Cercle des officiers in the 1880s

Mess des Officiers

Another image of the Cercle des officiers in the 1880s

Cercle des Officiers C i

The Cercle des officiers in the 1920s

SAÏGON - Cercle des Officiers

Another view of the Cercle des officiers in the 1920s

Saigon 1929 - Le Cercle des officiers

The Cercle des officiers in 1929

Ministry of Justice 1967 - 1968 i

In 1955-1975 the old Cercle des officiers building became the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Việt Nam. It is pictured here in 1967.

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.

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