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