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Old Saigon Building Of The Week: 86 Võ Văn Tần

The ornate mansion on the corner of the Bà Huyện Thanh Quan and Võ Văn Tần junction was once the private residence of celebrated photographer Fernand Nadal, whose old sepia postcard images of the city are now collectors’ items.


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A native of Algeria, Nadal arrived in Indochina in the early 1920s, and by 1922 he had opened the Photo Nadal Studio at 150 rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi), close to the junction with rue d'Espagne (Lê Thánh Tôn). A few years later, he relocated his business to 118-120 rue Catinat, part of the block now occupied by the Sheraton Hotel complex.

The Photo Nadal Studio at 150 rue Catinat (Đồng Khởi).

Nadal employed a European and six Vietnamese staff, and his promotional materials advertised a photographic salon and sale of photographic articles and products, including his famous sepia postcards and a number of printed photographic albums.

One of Nadal's famous sepia postcards - Rue de Canton, Cholon, Album Nadal 1926.

He was commissioned to do various photographic projects for both government and private clients, and between 1929 and 1931 a selection of his photographs was published in Le Monde colonial illustré. By the 1930s, he also had a branch studio in Phnom Penh and was the proprietor of rubber plantations in Biên Hoà and Thủ Dầu Một provinces.

The mansion at 86 rue Testard (now Võ Văn Tần) was built for Nadal in the late 1920s and it remained his home for at least 10 years. In recent years the building has been modified, but much of the original architecture remains intact. It serves currently as both a residence and a restaurant.

In recent years the building has been modified.

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Tim Doling is the author of the book of walking tours entitled Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014. Available at FAHASA - 42 Nguyễn Huệ) and also conducts 4-hour Heritage Tours of Historic Saigon and Cholon. For more information about Saigon history and Tim's tours, visit his website, www.historicvietnam.com.

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