Vietnam city considers partial conservation of heritage building

By Dinh Phu, Thanh Nien News

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A banister contour at the Saigon Tax Trade Center carved in the shape of the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster). Photo: Doc Lap A banister contour at the Saigon Tax Trade Center carved in the shape of the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster). Photo: Doc Lap

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The Ho Chi Minh City administration is considering proposals to conserve parts of the French colonial era Saigon Tax Trade Center situated in the downtown area, a top official has said.
The People’s Committee has taken on board the suggestions regarding the historic shopping center and would forward them to the city Party unit, deputy chairman Hua Ngoc Thuan told a meeting Tuesday.

The building's beautifully designed stairway with decorative wrought iron railings. Photo: Trung Hieu

The Saigon Tax Trade Center, originally known as “the Grands Magasins Charner,” opened in 1924. It was shut down on September 25 this year and is slated to be torn down to make way for a 40- skyscraper.
Earlier this month more than 300 architects, researchers, and students signed a petition calling on the city government to preserve “cultural relics in Tax mall.”
The petition was attached to a letter written by the honorary Finnish consul general in HCMC, Phung Anh Tuan.
In the letter, Tuan said he, on behalf of the Finnish embassy in Hanoi and the French envoy in HCMC, called on the city government to preserve the main lobby with the mosaic floor as well as the central staircase. They can be used in the new building, he said.
“If this suggestion can’t be carried out, we really hope for a plan to dismantle, remove, and retain the main design elements of the main lobby and the staircase, including the mosaic floor, banisters, handrails, and contours. These parts can be sent to a museum.”

A banister contour in the shape of a flower. Photo: Trung Hieu

Last week Tran Du Lich, a prominent National Assembly member from Ho Chi Minh City, said the city should gather public opinion about the partial preservation of the historic mall.
After being opened in 1924, the Grands Magasins Charner became “the place to shop in Saigon,” a city chronicler, 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.
The building, along with other French Colonial constructions like Ben Thanh Market, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the Central Post Office, the Saigon Opera House, is a favorite destination for foreign tourists.
It is set to be replaced by a 40-story building with a four-story basement that will link to the under-construction Ben Thanh–Suoi Tien metro line’s underground station.
The line, to run nearly 20 kilometers from District 1 to 9, is expected to come into operation in 2018.

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