One of the ways that I take time out from the often chaotic hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City it to spend time exploring some of its older buildings. A little while back, I was wandering through one of my favourites, the aging yet still stylish Catinat Building, located on the corner of Saigon’s most well-known street, Dong Khoi/Rue Catinat and Ly Tu Trong. The building is currently home to a number small local businesses – cafes, eateries and boutique clothing stores – established by entrepreneurial locals making their mark.
Construction of this art deco gem commenced in 1926 with the aim of attracting a high-end clientele. This is evident in some of the building features that remain today – lovely old floor tiles that have seen better days, the amazing sweeping staircase with its decorative metal balusters and the still operational French elevator.
Like so many of the aging buildings in town, the Catinat Building offers the opportunity for some guerilla photography. Having edged my way past the surly owners of the replica art painting shop at the entry of the building, who stubbornly insist on ‘no photos’, I have previously made my way past them to make use of the staircase as a backdrop for our rectangular cushion covers . The lovely folk at the Loft Café have also let me take some images of our Duy Tan, Empereur D’Annam, tablet cover, under which you can spy some of the old French-style tiles.
The Catinat Building is located an easy walk from Notre Dam Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Sadly, like so many colonial buildings in Vietnam and especially so along Dong Khoi Street in Saigon, it is earmarked for redevelopment, ironically for another building that intends to attract high-end clientele. I was elated to see that a new café has set up shop at street level recently, indicating there are no imminent plans to demolish the building. However things can change in the blink of an eye, so if you have the opportunity to explore the Catinat Building, better now than never.
For more information on the history of this building, check out the following informative sites:
The main photo of the building was taken by local historian and author of the Historic Vietnam website, Tim Doling, and reproduced with his permission. Tim is the author of a number of local guidebooks, including Exploring Saigon-Chợ Lớn – Vanishing Heritage of Hồ Chí Minh City, which is available at FAHASA and other major books stores in Vietnam.