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Icons of Old Saigon: The Casino de Saigon

Founded by French businessman Léopold Bernard, the Casino de Saigon was the city’s earliest cinema.


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Bernard set up the Société anonyme pour l'exploitation des cinémas Léopold Bernard in around 1910 and proceeded to build a chain of cinema-entertainment halls in Saigon (the Casino de Saigon), Mỹ Tho (the Casino de Mytho), Cần Thơ (the Casino de Cantho) and Bến Tre (the Casino de Bentre). Each auditorium was equipped for both stage and screen presentations and offered a varied programme of “cinema, theatre, concerts and other attractions.”

French businessman Léopold Bernard, founder of the Casino de Saigon.

The original Casino de Saigon building stood at 30 boulevard Bonnard (Lê Lợi), but it was subsequently expanded into number 28, the larger adjacent building on the corner of rue Pellerin (Pasteur). The original building was then remodelled to become the Casino’s restaurant-café, known after 1915 as the “Brasserie des sports” and managed by one of Bernard’s business partners, Daniel Courrèges.

The original Casino de Saigon building at 30 boulevard Bonnard.

The Casino de Saigon later expanded into 28 boulevard Bonnard next door.

After 1915 the original Casino de Saigon building was known as the “Brasserie des sports” and managed by one of Bernard’s business partners, Daniel Courrèges.

Apart from its regular programme of film screenings, the Casino de Saigon was billed as a venue for “European theatre” and hosted frequent performances by visiting French drama groups. It also became a popular venue for amateur boxing.

Following the death of Bernard Léopold on 31 July 1918, the management of the Société anonyme pour l'exploitation des cinémas Léopold Bernard was taken over by his brother-in-law, Constant René Blot. The company remained in family ownership until the end of the colonial era.

After the departure of the French, the Société anonyme pour l'exploitation des cinémas Léopold Bernard was acquired by a local businessman. The original Casino buildings were sold, and in the late 1950s, a larger and more modern Casino Cinema was built just round the corner at 59 Pasteur.

After 1955 the Casino Cinema was rebuilt just round the corner at 59 Pasteur.

After the Casino Cinema was relocated to 59 Pasteur, the original Casino de Saigon buildings were redeveloped.

After 1975, the Casino Cinema at 59 Pasteur was renamed the Vinh Quang Cinema and in 1998 it was converted into the Saigon Drama Theatre (Sân khấu Kịch Sài Gòn). It was closed several years ago and today the new Liberty Central Hotel stands on the site.

In 1998 the Casino Cinema at 59 Pasteur was converted into the Saigon Drama Theatre (Sân khấu Kịch Sài Gòn). It was closed several years ago and today the new Liberty Central Hotel stands on the site.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tours book Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) 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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