Iconic Vietnamese city's famous French villas in disrepair

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An abandoned villa in Da Lat Town, Lam Dong Province. Hundreds of French-style villas in Da Lat are deteriorating and/or unoccupied, but local authorities have yet to offer a solution. Photo by Gia Binh

Hundreds of the old French villas that made Da Lat famous have been abandoned, remodeled or are falling apart.

More than 200 villas have been put under the management of the Da Lat People's Committee.

Eighty-three have been rented out by Da Lat House Management Office to 561 households totaling around 2,000 people, while 64 are used as the offices of various local agencies and organizations.

Most of the villas used as offices have been expanded and many of their grassy outdoor areas have been paved over with cement.

The villas used as accommodations for public employees, workers and vendors have also been modified with new restrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and garages added.

"It's such a pity that we [local authorities] have not managed to protect the villas for so long and we've left them to deteriorate today," said Tran Van Viet, deputy chairman of the Da Lat People's Committee.

The Da Lat House Management Office initiated a plan in 2003 to take back 83 villas used as houses but only 12 of them have been recovered and leased to investors at this time. The office has also been relocating people and paying them compensation for having to move from the villas.

Meanwhile, dozens of villas in Da Lat, including 11 on Nguyen Du Street used as government offices or leased to companies for tourism businesses, are all but unused and abandoned. Many are falling apart.

Local residents told Thanh Nien that the villas on Nguyen Du, Pho Duc Chinh and Tuong Pho streets have been vandalized, had their furniture stolen and many drug addicts have chosen the buildings as places to hang out.

Syringes can be seen lying in the yard or in the grass at many villas.

A local speaking on condition of anonymity said that local residents used to go to the villas for a walk but now they dare not.

He said the residents have complained to the authorities but nothing has changed.

"It's such a waste to leave [the villas] deserted and damaged like that," he said.

Viet of the Da Lat People's Committee said his agency has ordered teams to clean villas on Nguyen Du Street, adding that his agency also plans to propose that the provincial People's Committee demolish the villas on this street and plant trees in their place.

Nguyen Huu Tam, director of the Lam Dong Construction Department, said the villas will be preserved based on their architectural values and profitability.

Tam said five of the villas will be restored to their primitive states, 77 will have their interior renovated for new purposes and their exteriors restored to their original states and another 96 will be completely renovated or dismantled to give space for new construction.

The remaining 34 villas will be sold or rented to the private sector, which the provincial People's Committee only allows to use the villas for tourism-related businesses rather than headquarters or transaction offices.

But many experts said Da Lat should preserve rather than sell, rent or demolish the villas since each of these buildings has its own architectural and historical values and they have all contributed to Da Lat's reputation for 120 years.

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