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Saigon Landmarks: REX HOTEL (1912 – 2008)

In Déjà Vu: Vietnam Part 6 we saw the Rex Hotel. While most of us remember it from the late 1950s through the fall of Saigon in 1975, have you ever wondered what it was before the time of our arrival in Saigon? Or, what became of it after 1975?

I did … so here is a brief history of the Rex Hotel along with some pictures taken during various times in the past.

What we knew as the Rex Hotel grew from a very interesting past. Around 1912 a Mr. Bainier started an auto repair and garage business. Bainier Garage, as it was called, became very successful. He had to keep moving to larger facilities. Between 1914 and 1927 his garage and repair business grew rapidly. About 1924 he moved to the two-story building that would later become the Rex Hotel. He then became an import dealer for Citroen automobiles. In 1927 he again expanded the business opening a 6,000 square foot Citroen dealership and showroom adjacent to the garage, as well as, branches in Phom Penh, Tourane, Hue and Hanoi. At the time, Bainier Garage and Citroen dealerships were known as the nicest and most successful in the Far East, employing 25 Europeans and 300 Vietnamese.

Here is a picture of the Bainier Garage and Citroen dealership taken in 1927. (Official name: Bainier Auto Hall Establishments of Indochina)

Bainier Garage 1927

In 1959, Mr. and Mrs. Ung Thi, a Vietnamese couple purchased the property. They renovated it into a six-story building with 100 guest rooms. Then renamed it the Rex Trading Center (for those who might be wondering why the name ‘Rex’ … in French or Latin it means King, Royal, Royalty, etc. Hence the logo of a Crown). They leased most of the premises to the U.S. Information Services (USIS) for office and residential use. The remaining space housed three movie theaters, a cafeteria, a dance hall and the Lincoln Center Library.

Here’s a picture of the Rex (on right) taken in the early 1960s.

Rex Hotel 1960s

The Rex became popular during the 1960s and 1970s developing a colorful history. It was the headquarters for U.S. Information Services (USIS) in Saigon (and allegedly numerous CIA activities) and the rendezvous place of many U.S. officers and foreign reporters. Vietnam’s reunification was announced in the Rex’s ballroom (conference room), which was also the setting of the U.S. Military’s media briefings, known to many a jaded journalist as “The Five O’clock Follies” of dubious reports of ‘progress’ during the Vietnam War.

Saigon Kid Les Arbuckle’s father started the Dawnbuster Show on the Armed Forces Radio Station in Saigon from the Rex in 1962. It was later made famous by Robin Williams (as Adrian Cronauer) in “Good Morning, Vietnam”.

The Rex’s Rooftop Garden Bar was a favorite gathering place for lunch; and, its Sunday BBQ Buffet was very popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Here’s a picture of the Sunday BBQ Buffet taken in 1962.

Rex Sunday BBQ 1962

After the fall of Saigon in 1975 the Rex Trading Center became the property of the city’s tourist bureau, Saigontourist Ho Chi Minh City, a holding corporation, who renamed it The Ben Thanh Hotel. It was then upgraded to an international hotel. In 1986 it was sold and again renamed, Khach San Ben Thanh Rex Hotel, as it remains today. The management adopted the Rex Hotel as its trade mark and a crown as its official logo. Between February 1991 and August 1998 in response to the demand of tourism, the adjacent Sunflower Hotel and a property at 146 Pasteur Street were renovated and incorporated into the Rex compound adding 115 guest rooms, the Rex Royal Court Restaurant, and the Rose Garden.

In 1995 the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism classified the Rex Hotel as a 230 room international 4-star hotel.

Here is a picture of the Rex Hotel today.

Rex Today

The atmosphere and ambience of the 1960s and 1970s, when American officers lived and worked in the hotel, has been preserved throughout the hotel, the Grand Lobby, the Rose Garden and the Rooftop Garden Lounge, even after numerous renovations.

Here is a picture of the Rooftop Garden Lounge today.

Rex Roof Today

After nearly 100 years the Rex Hotel building, from its humble beginnings as a garage, lives on as a Saigon landmark known around the world.

Over the next few days, I’ll be uploading another 25+ pictures (1920s to 2008) of the Rex into an album in our Photo Gallery … I hope you enjoy them and they bring back many memories for you … :)

As always please feel free to leave your comments below.

Bob

5 comments to Saigon Landmarks: REX HOTEL (1912 – 2008)

  • Hi
    Thank you for this interesting piece of information. I make some research about the history of the French automobile manufacturer Citroen in Asia. Do you have any other info or document about it ?
    Thanks in advance.
    Pierre

    • Admin

      Hello Pierre – I’m glad you found this information helpful in your research. The only information I have about the Citroen automobile in Siagon and Viet-nam is what is available on the Internet through seach engines, such as Google, etc.

      I do recall that when I lived in Saigon during 1959 to 1961 Citroen cars where everywhere. They were one of the most popular luxury cars at that time. As, I remember, they had a problem with the axles breaking on the rough roads in Viet-nam. They looked funny sitting on the side of the road with there tires laying flat pointing outward when the axles broke.

      I visited your web site. Very well done. A lot of interesting information about the Citroen.

      If in the future I come across information about Citroen in Asia I’ll forward it to you.

      Have a great day!

      Bob

  • Thanks !

    Concerning classic cars in Vietnam, I came across a very interesting site:
    http://www.classiccars.vn/classiccar/website_cars/history.asp

    Pierre

    • Pierre – thank you for sharing with us! The history of cars in Viet-nam is very interesting. I didn’t know about some of them, until you were kind enough to visit this site and share the information about them. Thank you so much.

      Bob

  • Paul Shaffer

    The Rex Hotel was also a Bachelor Officers Quarter in the 60s. The embassy/USIS jazz band used to play there during the BBQs including my mother, the school’s music teacher on bass.

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