Petitioners call for partial preservation of Saigon Tax Center

Thanh Nien News

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More than 300 architects, researchers and students signed a petition calling on the Ho Chi Minh City government to preserve parts of the Saigon Tax Trade Center.
The century-old downtown colonial-era shopping center is slated to be torn down to make way for a 40-storey skyscraper. 
Tran Huu Khoa, an architect who represents the petitioners, told Thoi Bao Kinh Te Saigon on Monday that the group attached the petition to a letter written by Honorary Consul General of Finland in HCMC Phung Anh Tuan, calling on the HCMC People’s Committee to preserve parts of the historic building. 
Khoa said many of the signatories had initially posted appeals on their personal blogs and news outlets after learning of the city’s plans to tear down the 134-year-old building.
“We realize that it is impossible to stop the building of a new high-rise on the location of the Saigon Tax Trade Center, so we have called on the city government to preserve cultural relics contained in the building,” he said. 
Khoa said the petition received support from the culture ministry’s Heritage Department and several renowned historians and archaeologists. 
In his letter, Tuan called on the developer to preserve the tiled mosaic in the main lobby as well as the bronze railings that line the central staircase. 
If it is impossible to keep these parts intact, the letter says, the developer should map out plans to dismantle, remove and retain the main design elements, including the mosaic floors, balustrades, handrails and the banisters carved in the shape of the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster). 
The Saigon Tax Trade Center was built in 1880 and has been renovated several times since. However, according to the letter, several interior elements of the building, including the lobby lounge, mosaic floor, and the main staircase are original 19th century items. 
Doan Hoai Minh, director of the new Tax building project backed by Saigon Trading Corp (Satra), told Thoi Bao Kinh Te Saigon that any architectural elements associated with the history of the old building will be partially preserved in the design of the new building. However, Satra cannot determine which elements will be preserved, as the project is still in the design phase, he said.
On September 29, Minh told Thanh Nien that the US-based Gensler & Associates International Limited (Gensler) beat five top global design firms in its bid to craft the look of the new building.
Gensler is expected to complete its design in three months.
Satra will then submit the design to state agencies for review and approval. 
After occupying one of the most beautiful locations in the city for most of its history, the Tax mall was officially closed on October 1. 
It will be replaced by a 40-storey building with a four-storey basement that will link to the Ben Thanh –Suoi Tien metro line station. The line will span nearly 20 kilometers between District 1 and District 9 and is expected to come into operation in 2018. 
The Saigon Tax Trade Center, originally known as “the Grands Magasins Charner,” opened in 1924 and became “the place to shop in Saigon,” Saigon historian Tim Doling said on his blog, Historic Vietnam. 
The 1937 Guide touristique général de l’Indochine described the Grands Magasins as “the best stocked store in Indochina, with the widest choice, incomparable prices and all of the facilities one would find in a Paris department store,” Doling said. 
Last renovated in 2003, the building retains many of its original interior features, notably its beautifully designed stairway with decorative wrought iron railings, he said.

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