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Bye Bye To Passage Eden in Saigon

In April 2010 demolition began of the old Passage Eden, a central Saigon landmark.

This short video shows areas of the building before all ‘tenants’ were ordered out on April 8th. At least 150 owners of apartments on floors three to five of the est. 1947 French colonial structure are resisting moves by the developer to force them to leave. Residents complain they are being offered about half market value on their flats.

During the Vietnam War many journalists and broadcasters lived and worked in the Passage Eden. [1960-1975] Among other scenes, the video shows the shuttered Eden Room 422, the one time offices of the Associated Press. NBC News, the entrance covered by steel grating, was next door up until the end of 1975.

Exteriors of the building show what is left of the popular cafe and patisserie Givrals – est. 1950. Givrals was a favorite hangout of Saigon reporters, politicians, and Saigon Kids back in the old days.

Passage Eden was one of the first places, in Saigon, I visited. My second day in Saigon Larry Smith was showing me around town. Shortly after he picked me up from the USOM Guest House we were staying at we jumped in a motor cyclo (my first thrill ride in Saigon) when I asked him, “Where can I buy some cigarettes?” and off we went to To Do Street. As we approached Tu Do and Le Loi Streets, Larry directed the cyclo driver to turn right on Le Loi Street then stop and wait for us. We got out of the cyclo, walked across the sidewalk to a vendor with her little cigarette stand. I was going to buy a pack of American cigarettes (Winston or Selem being the only brands available) but Larry told me they were at least 3 years old and stale – then suggested I try the French cigarettes *Bastos*. I bought a pack of Bastos. We got back in the cyclo and lite up. This was when I learned the *Lucky’s* I’d always smoked in the USA – were comparatively – MILD!!

Passage Eden would become a place I visited often while living in Saigon. The first piece of jewelry I bought in Saigon came from a little shop just inside the first entrance way off Le Loi Street. I haggled for about 3 mouths with the shop owner before finally buying it. Every time I’d stop to by cigarettes from the street vendor I’d stop in the jewelry shop and haggle for awhile.

Passage Eden is also where the Catinat Cine was located – non-stop cinema from 1 p.m. to midnight. I have fond memories of afternoons spent here watching *Rebel Without A Cause* (in French with Vietnamese subtitles), and many other movies in French (some with English subtitles). Of course, my fondest memories are of my movie dates with the lovely French girls from the Cercle Sportif – I couldn’t speak enough French to talk my way out of a wet paper bag … but, I didn’t care when I was spending a couple hours in the afternoon sitting in the theater with 2 or 3 wonderful lovely sweet French girls – sometimes as a teenager in Saigon I found Heaven in mysterious ways – LOL – 🙂

As I learn of more and more of the old French Colonial buildings being torn down, it saddens me greatly to know these places which hold some of my fondest memories of Saigon will no longer be there – what a shame!

The so called modernization of Saigon reminds me of how I watched Hawaii change over the years from the mid-1950s when I first arrived there. Particularly, in Honolulu and Waikiki. Nothing is the same. Little of the *Old Hawaii* I knew and loved dearly remains. It has turned into just another L.A. like place … loosing much of the *fantasy* that everyone always went to Hawaii for … white sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the trade winds, slow paced laid back way of life, etc. – now it is just high rises and traffic and uptight people everywhere … as the old song goes *pave paradise to put up a parking lot* … seems to me, to be the way things are going in Old Saigon too. Some call it *progress* … I call it destruction.

What are your memories of Passage Eden?

As always, you are welcome to leave your comments below.

Bob

9 comments to Bye Bye To Passage Eden in Saigon

  • Leri

    I’m not sure, but it would have made sense for the news bureaus to move into the former USOM photo lab. That entrance looks a lot like the entrance to my father’s lab which was in existence in 1955 when we arrived. Givral didn’t go in until around ’56 or ’57. My dad used to take me there for ice creme and my mother used to raise hell with him because she didn’t know where the milk for it came from. I still have an old Juke box coin from there. Will try to dig it up. Gosh! I really wouldn’t recognize the place now.

  • Sarah J Rogers

    I agree that the changes in Saigon are just unbelievable. Being there in 2001 and then again in 2009…it was hard to fathom that only 8 years had passed. Saigon will soon be the next Toyko or Shanghai.
    And you are right about Honolulu Bob. We refer to it as LA West. But you need to come to Kauai where change takes forever (thank Heaven) and we are still the forgotten island for the most part.

  • Ruth Matteson Blackmore

    So sad to see all the new development in Saigon. I loved the French Colonial look. I spent a lot of time at Passage Eden while I lived in Saigon in 1961-62 and again on my return in 2009. Never forgot going to the movie to see Cleopatra which was dubbed in French with Vietnamese running across the bottom of the screen and Chinese running down the side! Everything but English!

    Ruth

  • Kevin L. Wells

    For me, the best baguette (sp?) on the face of the planet was made by the bakery there (Girval? Givral?) Anyway, people familiar with Saigon after I left seem to concur when I describe the place. It must have changed hands over the years, but whoever was there 59-62 knew his way around a bakery!

    KLW

  • Janet Bogardus

    I haven’t been back to Saigon since 1962, so I haven’t really experienced the changes there. I’m hoping I’ll get there before it’s too far gone. The house my family and I lived in (an elegant French colonial structure) I learned had been torn down because it was riddled with termites.

    JB

  • dao dao

    I can’t bear to hear Passage Eden was demolished. I was born, and grown in Saigon.My heart was broken when I heard this new.

  • Elisabeth

    I am sad to learn about the demolition of Passage Eden, I came to Eden movie very often with my first lover, young, platonic, full of love, it was our sweet dream past. In that building also lived my schoolmate where we did our homework together after school sometimes. I came back Saigon in 2005, and was able to see the kiosk where we bought ticket for the movie in the old time. The second return in 2007 the indoor was renewed and stores are redesigned with vietnamese arts. Saigon was so beautiful in early days in the french colonial style. The modern building look ugly with no qualitative architecture. They like to compete with other Asian countries, but I think they are all mad, because their skylines have not embellished any city in Asia, in contrary, they kill their landscape, cultural site, and turn their way of life into horror. Behind the false luxury makeup, million vietnamese live in the poverty, dirty, stinking canalization etc..any care?

  • marie jeanne huster

    20000 lieux sous la mer (Jules Vernes) et Trapeze avec Gina llolobrigida were my last movies before I left Saigon. Is it very sad not to see this passage again in my next trip, the last souvenir from my childhood will disappear for ever. Is it not very sad for a girl that I was and born in Saigon and use to go passage Eden when I was little.
    marie jeanne- 23 november 2011

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