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City urged to save part of old trade centre for posterity

Update: October, 16/2014 - 08:17
Built in 1880, the Tax Trade Centre has become a part of HCM City's cultural heritage. More than 3,200 students, architects and researchers, including foreigners, have signed a petition circulating on the internet to preserve parts of the shopping centre. — VNA/VNS Photo Kim Phuong

by Van Dat

HCM CITY (VNS) — The Honorary Consul General of Finland in HCM City, Phung Anh Tuan, is leading a delegation of diplomats who want to preserve a portion of the Sai Gon Tax Trade Center, which is slated for demolishment this month to make room for a new 40-story building.

Along with Tuan, the Honorary Consul of Belgium Dominique Casier and Honorary Consul of Chile Claudio Schuftan have sent a letter to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the HCM City's People's Committee and other authorities requesting that part of the structure be saved.

More than 2,500 students, architects and researchers, including foreigners, have also signed a petition circulating on the internet to preserve parts of the 100-year-old shopping centre.

Tuan told Viet Nam News that he wanted to maintain the city's cultural heritage so that it could be admired by everyone, including tourists and other visitors to Viet Nam.

"The call to conserve the building came from me, not from the Finnish Government," Tuan said, adding that other general consuls supported Tuan's proposal.

The group has proposed three alternative solutions. The first would integrate the lobby with its mosaic-tile floor and the main staircase into the design of the new building.

If that cannot be done, the second solution would be to move the lobby, staircase, mosaic-tile floor, balustrades, handrails and other items to a museum. If there were no funds for this, the consular delegations in HCM City would arrange all labour costs to implement the second proposal, if approved.

"I think preserving the centre would bring the property developer many benefits. It's simple to build a new high-rise building, but it is not easy to build this kind of structure," Tuan said.

Upon receiving the letter, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism asked the HCM City's People's Committee to consider the proposal.

"I really want to hear the opinion from the city government and Sai Gon Trading Corporation (SATRA), the developer of the trade centre," he said.

He cited examples from other countries' successful historic preservation efforts.

The Siam Center in Bangkok, one of the first trade centres in Bangkok, was preserved even though it was built 50 years after the Sai Gon Tax Trade Center (which was originally named Grands Magasins Charner).

Other examples include Chinatown in Singapore, Whiteleys in London, and Marshall Field's Wholesale Store and Sullivan Centre in Chicago.

According to the letter, HCM City is the only city in Southeast Asia to have such an old structure like Sai Gon Tax Trade Centre.

Since 1924, the building has been renovated several times and parts of the exterior have been altered.

However, the lobby, mosaic-tile floor and the main staircase are all original items from 1924.

Professor Ton Nu Quynh Tran, 70, director of the Centre for Urban and Development Studies, told Viet Nam News that she moved to the city as a university student and had many memories of the centre.

"I went there to shop very often. I was attracted by the beauty of its lobby. Now I'm heartbroken to see that it is going to be demolished," Tran said, adding that she was pleased to see that Vietnamese youth had signed an online petition calling for the preservation of the structure.

"I know they have the same feelings as I do, although they belong to a much younger generation. For me, the centre not only has architectural and cultural value but sentimental value as well," she added.

Tran said that the city's development should be in harmony with preservation of cultural and spiritual values.

In the past, Singapore, for example, destroyed many old structures to build new buildings but it later realised the value of cultural heritage and developed policies to preserve old buildings because of a loss in tourism, she said.

She believes the petition and the consuls' plan will have a positive result.

Tran Huu Khoa, a 25-year-old architect, who prepared the online petition, said that he and Tuan began working together after the honorary consul read his story about the Sai Gon Tax Trade Center last month.

"I hope my petition somehow influences the destiny of the structure, because the 40-story commercial centre is still in the design stage. There could be some modifications to keep parts of the building," he said.

As of yesterday, 3,200 people had signed the petition. — VNS

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