Thousands sign petition to save Saigon's French building from demolition

By Huu Nguyen   May 12, 2018 | 02:47 pm GMT+7
Thousands sign petition to save Saigon's French building from demolition
The building with red tile roof, built by the French in the 1860s, now serves as the headquarters of HCMC’s Department of Information and Communications. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Officials said the 130-year-old building could be pulled down to give space for expanding the city hall next to it.

A group of Vietnamese and foreign experts have gathered thousands of signatures to urge the city government to spare a colonial building from being torn down for the expansion of the city's administration center.

The group of researchers and architects said that Vietnam is having "serious problem" with its heritage management with the plan to destroy the former French government building at 59-61 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1.

The building, which is serving as the headquarters of HCMC’s Department of Information and Communications, was used by the French government as the management and operations of all civil and judicial activities during colonial times. It is the second oldest landmark in Saigon, after a 228-year-old house that belonged to Bishop Ba Da Loc.

Officials have said that the building, built by the French in the 1860s and upgraded most lately in 1890, "could be demolished" to serve the expansion of the city's People's Committee building standing next to it.

They reasoned that the building was not included in the government's conservation list and thus the city is under no obligation to save it. They said there are other ways to preserve a historic building, such as keeping a model of it.

But the experts dismissed the argument in their petition, which will be submitted to the city's chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong.

They said the building not being part of a list "is not a valid reason for demolishing it."

"Other important historic structures, like the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office and Ben Thanh Market, are also not yet listed as heritage, will they too be demolished?" the petition said, questioning the fate of other famous French buildings in the city.

“A Saigon without legacy” could pose threats for future tourism development, experts said, warning the construction of the new administration building would only exacerbate traffic congestion in the downtown area.

Dr. Nguyen Duc Hiep, a conservation expert based in Australia, told VnExpress that many researchers have been upset to witness many historical and cultural heritages in the city being torn down to pave the way for modern urban development over the past years.

“The city should fix its urban development mistakes," said Hiep, who is leading the petition with other experts including British historian Tim Doling, author of "Exploring Ho Chi Minh City."

"Our ultimate purpose is to make sure the city is developed sustainably, and that its historical and cultural values are preserved for the next generations," Hiep said.

His petition has received more than 3,500 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.

The old French government building at 59-61 Ly Tu Trong is earmarked for destruction under a plan to build a new city administration center. Photo provided by Tim Doling

The old French government building at 59-61 Ly Tu Trong is earmarked for destruction under a plan to build a new city administration center. Photo provided by Tim Doling

The city's planning and architecture department announced the new admin center upgrade plan in April, saying it is considering the design by U.S. architecture firm Gensler. If approved, the new city hall will extend over 18,000 square meters and accommodate up to 1,700 staff from eight different government departments.

 
 
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