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Old Saigon The Way It Was In 1955

I thought everyone might enjoy seeing Saigon the way it looked in 1955. This collection of films was taken in November 1955.

Those of us Saigon Kids who were in Saigon prior to 1961, this is pretty much the way Saigon was when we were there. The rapid changes, in Saigon, seemed to have come after 1961 for the most part.

When I arrived in Saigon in April 1959 it still looked about the same as in this film and remained that way until my departure in early 1961. Saigon was really very mellow back then compared to the hustle and bustle that came with the war build-up starting in late 1961 to early 1962.


In many ways I’m glad I left before the build-up for the war and the war years, as Saigon was such a beautiful peaceful place while I was there. As you can see in this film the traffic was not all that bad, like it became in later years (and is today).

I hope you enjoy seeing what *Old Saigon* the former capital of French Indo-China was like. Some of the scenes in this film are the Municipal Theatre (Opera House), the fountain, Saigon City Hall with a large photo of Premier Diem (before he was President) over the entrance. Street scenes in a residential section of the city. A side walk vendor display of toy sampans near the edge of a park. The Catholic Cathedral. The river with vessels in the harbor and at the pier. Nearly deserted streets at noon to 3 pm (nap time) with most of the shops closed; and, a street vendor sleeping with his feet under his stand and hat over his face. Women street vendors with their baskets. Cars moving through the streets during heavy rains. Some great shots of the old original Continental Hotel and Tu Do Street, along with Le Loi Street, Flower Street and the Tax Building … on and on with old familiar places.

Just for fun see how many places you can remember and name – LOL – 🙂

[Note: The last scene in the film is somewhat underexposed.]

There is NO SOUND to this film (your speakers are not broken) – LOL.

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

Enjoy a journey back in time to the sweet sweet memories of *Old Saigon* … 🙂

Bob

20 comments to Old Saigon The Way It Was In 1955

  • Bruce Thomas

    Thanks for making that film available, Bob. It brings back fond memories of idyllic times along Rue Catinat, back 50 (count ’em!)years ago when my family arrived in July 1960.

  • Leri

    Thanks for the memories. I see you managed to capture La Pagode – the tea room anyway, and the old Continental Hotel across the street from Passage Eden. It really was a beautiful city

  • Leri

    I’m wondering who Wilson, on the clip card, was. Mrs Wilson was a teacher and her son Ashley was a phenomenal painter. They were from Oklahoma.

    • Leri – I was wondering the same thing *who is Wilson*. At the time these clips were taken (1955) I doubt there were more then 50 or so Americans in Saigon – mostly CIA and Military Intelligence personnel working covertly through the U.S. Embassy. When I arrived in 1959 there were only a total of about 450 Americans in all of Viet-nam.

      I’m assuming these clips were taken by an Army photographer as they were obtained (and copied to DVD) from the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, U.S. Army Audiovisual Center. They were originally *Classified* then years later *De-Classified* – why I do not know. Perhaps they were originally some type of surveillance footage.

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    The “Paris of the East” was a beautiful city. The lovely people and the shady streets are as pretty as I remember.
    C’mon Bob and Ken…can’t you identify, “Wilson?”
    With all your locating skills I bet you can “name that man” in less than a week!
    Thank you for sharing these pictues of Old Saigon. Sure brings back good memories from our tour there from 1958-60.

    • Suellen – Actually, it took me *4.3 seconds* to locate *Wilson* – LOL – amazing how fast Google can find things … ha ha ha – 🙂

      Here’s the scoop:

      Biography

      Gwendolyn Mary Wilson was born to Fannie Robinson Wilson and Dr. Cornelius Wilson in Dardaneele, Arkansas on December 8, 1907. Dr. Wilson moved the family to Des Moines, Iowa in August 1913 where he set up an office and continued with his medical practice. Dr. Wilson died in 1916. Fannie Wilson married Olin Cooper in 1937.

      Gwendolyn Wilson attended Bryant Elementary School and West High School in Des Moines. Determined that her daughter get the best education possible, Fannie Wilson made arrangements for Gwendolyn to attend a special preparatory high school located on the campus of Rust College, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wilson graduated with honors in 1926 before returning to Iowa, where she was accepted to the College of Pharmacy at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. After attending the University of Iowa for a year, Wilson transferred to the Des Moines College of Pharmacy, which later became the Drake College of Pharmacy. When Wilson graduated with a pharmaceutical/chemist degree (Ph.C.) in 1930, she became the first black woman to obtain a pharmaceutical degree and to be officially registered as a pharmacist in the state of Iowa.

      Although Wilson was highly qualified and certified by the state to practice pharmacy, she was unable to find work as a pharmacist. Wilson would later blame this on the economy during the Depression, labor legislation that restricted the number of hours women could work, and racism. Unable to find work in Iowa, Wilson returned to Holly Springs, Mississippi and taught seventh grade for a year before returning to Des Moines again. Wilson got a job waiting tables before being hired by Winnie (Mrs. N.E.) Coffin as a maid. In 1936, Wilson accompanied Coffin on a world tour to purchase artwork for the Des Moines Art Museum then under construction. The two women traveled extensively in China, Japan, Sumatra, Bali, Java, Singapore, and Australia. Their tour ended abruptly in August 1937 when Coffin died in Japan. Following Mrs. Coffin’s death, Wilson returned to Des Moines where she married Lafe H. Fowler on January 19, 1938. They were divorced in 1946.

      Gwendolyn Wilson Fowler finally obtained employment in her field in 1944 when she was hired by the State of Iowa Department of Health as a pharmacist’s clerk. In 1950, Fowler took a position as a chemist in the Iowa State Department of Agriculture laboratory. As a temporary consultant on a special project, Fowler caught the attention of President Eisenhower’s administration. Fowler became one of only nine women (and the only woman of color) to be selected for Foreign Service positions higher than secretary. In 1955, Fowler was assigned as a program analyst in Saigon, Vietnam where she was stationed for four years. After completing her Foreign Service assignment, Fowler returned to Des Moines and the Iowa State Department of Agriculture laboratory. In 1962, Fowler was hired by the Broadlawns Polk County Hospital as a staff pharmacist, a position she held until her retirement in 1974.

      During her retirement, Fowler was active in volunteer organizations, including Wilkie House, the Red Cross, and the United Way. Fowler also served on the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) board of directors, the State Drug Abuse Council and the Des Moines Civic Music Board. Governor Robert Ray appointed Fowler to the Iowa Statewide Health Coordinating Council. Fowler was a lifetime member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was also a member of the Des Moines Sister City Commission, the Des Moines Women’s Club, and the Drake University Alumni Association. In 1987, Fowler was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

      Fowler died in November 1997.

      Click Here to read more about her. Well worth the additional reading, as you’ll know a lot of the families mentioned in her papers who were in Saigon during 1955 – 1959 time frame. I’d love to get copies of her photo/slide/film collections of Saigon and Viet-nam. Hmmm? maybe I need to plan a trip in the near future – LOL – 🙂

  • Elizabeth Respess

    Thanks, Bob. Even without the sound, the live action gives you the sense of pace that still photos can’t.

  • Susie Stann

    Thanks, for the film, Bob. It sure does bring bakc memories.

    PS Suellen! This is Susie Stann. Veny & I wondered whatever happened to you. We’ve seen each other in San Francisco, Bali, & Vietnam. Want to email & catch up? I give Bob permission to give you my email.
    Susie

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Ahhh Saigon…what 17 year old kid wouldn’t have enjoyed his or her time in Saigon? This film was a real trip down memory lane. Some of the cars were ones I didn’t recognize and some of the streets, but the theme was perfect. During my time (1961-1964 with breaks) taxis (except to drop off), cyclos and bicycles were not allowed on Tu Do (Rue Catinat) Street. Bird watching was a favorite pastime (having a drink at an outdoor cafe or bar and watching the pretty girls go by). Oh what to live those days again. SIGH!!!!!

  • Richard (Rique) turner

    Bob,

    This is remarkable footage, especially the shots taken during a rainstorm. How did you happen to get ahold of it? Is there ever going to be a screening of The Poetic Geography of Saigon at the Kinh Do? I’ve just completed the video for my current project, SEE ANGKOR AND DIE. It has a 4 minute segment that is the video version of my James Dean story.

    Best,

    Richard

    • Hi Rique – Yes, I agree with you given the time this footage was taken it is very remarkable. It is even more remarkable that it is still in fairly good condition. Top secret *Clod* sources provided it – LOL – 🙂

      Poetic Geography of Saigon will not be screening at The Kinh Do, as *Passage Eden* seems a better fit – lol – since it was the Clod’s favorite theater – 🙂

      It will be a few more weeks before I can show it (and about 15 others I’ve got piled up here) as I’m still in the process of setting up the new computer system, and transferring over my 12 year collection of files and data on the old computer system. Not being a geek or techie I’ve encountered many, many learning curves along the way (which I had not anticipated – lol ). (Note: for those of you who don’t know this – I’m still using a computer I bought in 1998 and running on windows 98SE … but, recently I’ve been forced to get a new up to date computer system, so I bought a *Rolls Royce* system recentely along with a number of the latest cutting edge programs, etc. which once the transition is complete will allow me to do full blown movie and video productions – along with a lot of other really cool stuff. So, brace yourselves, cuz once I get everything transferred to the new system and have it fully functional – look out … Saigon Kids is gonna ROCK!! – LOL – 🙂

      Great to hear you completed the new project *SEE ANGKOR AND DIE* – I’ll be sitting on the edge of my chair waiting to view it! By the way, speaking of *Deaner* I’ve got a copy of the original movie Trailer for *Rebel Without A Cause*… it will be showing at the Passage Eden soon – 🙂

      Rique, do you recall a girl named *Jane T. Flowers* living in Saigon? Brooks seems to remember going to her house where she taught Brooks how to write *beat poetry*, but to date we’ve been unable to find any trace of her having lived in Saigon.

      Rock Onnnnn …

      Bob

      • Jesse Rivel

        Hi all. Got on this site while googling my mothers maiden name. Jane Tee Flowers. I have a ton of beautiful pictures from her time in Saigon. I was hoping to run into someone who might share some good memories of her. She passed away in Novemberof 2005. I know one of her best friends’ name was Suellen. I saw a Suellen on here. Also, in the pictures I have, Jane is wearing a Charlie Brown helmet and riding a small motorcycle. Does anyone recall anything about that?

  • Bob,

    Jane Flowers married Paul Christensen. I visited them in 1962. They had a young child. They’ve long since been divorced. I think that Paul is in contact with her and their son. She certainly would have been the person to teach Brooks how to write bet poetry. She and Paul spent time in San Francisco sometime shortly after returning from Saigon.

    Best,

    Richard

    • rique – Thanks! I’m sure Brooks will appreciate this information and now knowing that she did not have an *imaginary* friend – LOL

      I’ll let Brooks know about this post from you. I’m sure she’ll be excited. – 🙂

      By the way, I viewed your video. Veryyyyy *COOL* – As soon as I finish getting this new computer system set up and functioning properly, I’ll be showing your video on the site here, so all the Saigon Kids can view it – stay tuned.

      Bob

  • Leri

    Seems Rique is a great resource for news from peers. Do you know what ever happened to Jeanie and Judy Smith? Jeanie used to keep me company in the afternoons while my mother was working. She would take me everywhere. I think I even had a brush with a toga party. Then again maybe I have a vivid imagination.

    Leri

    • Leri – I might be wrong, but I think, Judy (Smith) Poulin passed away some time ago. I don’t have any information on Jeanie Smith. Has anyone else been in touch with Jeanie?

      Toga parties – I’d almost forgotten about those – LOL – 😉

      Those were about as *wild* and *uninhibited* as it got back in the 50s … little did we realize then what the 60s held in store for us – LOL – 🙂

      Bob

  • Greg Eaton

    I found this site after searching for hours on google.. I only visited Ho Chi Minh city for the first time in Feb 2009. I have now been lucky enough to have been there once a month for the past 2 years usually just for a couple for days at a time for business. I have craved for some old vision and photos (not filled with the American War vision- (as the locals call it). It is amazing that i can recognise many many scenes from your wonderful video that are still there today. Apart from the hustle and bustle and noise there people are wonderful and i have me so many locals and enjoyed home cooked meals and the like. I cannot wait to show this video to them when i am there next in a few weeks. Although i am nearing 60 – all the locals i do business with are much much younger (mid 20’s to mid 30’s) – but they all want me to meet their parents and elder relatives. They really are wonderful people – though there is much poverty and expensive European cars are parked next to people who still live on the street. Thanks Greg

  • Bob – wonderful footage of Saigon early days. I remember it that way from when I got there in 1959. I love the monsoon shots.

    Rique – very interested to hear of your new video, and looking forward to seeing the James Dean in Saigon part. Where can I see the whole thing?

    • Janet – Rique did a *remake* of the original video he made. He sent me a copy which I’ll be showing here on the blog in the near future – the revised version is totally AWESOME! I’m still in the process of recovering from the damage done when my servers where hacked a couple weeks ago. Fortunately, this site was not effected. But, over the next couple weeks I’ll be moving this site to it’s own dedicated server as a safety measure against potential future hacks to my primary servers. Once I complete moving this site to it’s own dedicated server, I’ll show Rique’s video on here.

      Bob

  • FZE

    hello

    thank you sooooo much for this movie online. my grandfather JM Aziz was a big important man in Saigon in those days. He died in 1958 in Saigon. Right now i am trying to save the graveyard he was buried in hence my blog in the link should anyone like to visit and lend support….

    but its nice to watch some moving pictures… gives me a clear idea on how the streets were….when he was alive and walking them…. especially Continental Hotel on Rue Catinat…where he used to live and always had his breakfast at the continental….

    thank you for the movie….i will come by often…just to watch it….

    thank you….

    PS: if i may add…you may google my grandfather’s name and see lots of photos of saigon and him. those of you who wish to share your memories… i would love to hear them.

    his name is JM Abdul Aziz from South India and France.

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