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Azerai La Residence, Hue history

After the French tightened their grip on Vietnam in the 1880s, they ceded the north bank of the Perfume River to the Vietnamese and took charge of land along the south bank that had been held by the imperial navy. The colons started work on a ‘New City’ on the south bank, and ran a thoroughfare along the river’s edge and named it for Jules Ferry, a 19th Century French prime minister and imperialist.

They designed and erected monumental buildings along this elegant avenue, including Quoc Hoc High School in 1897, the Truong Tien Bridge in 1899 and Hue Railway Station in 1906, as well as a remarkable collection of administration buildings and mansions.

South of rue Jules Ferry was an expansive French neighbourhood, where several hundred colonial families lived throughout the colonial era when the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin and the colony of CochinChina appeared to be an “oasis of peace and beauty,” as one National Geographic correspondent wrote at the time.

In 1930, the mansion at 5 Le Loi opened as an addition to the residence of the colonial French Resident Superieure. With its bowed facade, long horizontal lines and nautical flourishes, the mansion was an exemplar of art deco architecture.

Truong Tien Bridge, 1926

The historical record is thin on doings at 5 Le Loi throughout its early years. From 1935 to 1940, the mansion played host to periodic trade fairs, organised by the colonial authorities, that showcased products made by local craftsmen. In its day, this commercial fair was renowned throughout central Vietnam.

No doubt, the Resident hosted official delegations. Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, was reputed to have stayed in a first floor room during one of his last visits to Hue. In 2006, a Thai photographer shot the renovated mansion for a coffee table book about the life of King Bhumipol, who reportedly stayed in the mansion sometime in the 1950s.

Hue Railway Station, 1930

During the uncertain years between the end of World War II and the emergence of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem in the mid-1950s, the French struggled against Vietnamese nationalists in the First Indochina War. Bao Dai, who had abdicated in Hue to the government of Ho Chi Minh in 1945, played a ceremonial leadership role during these years. In 1949, the governor’s office was located at 5 Le Loi.

After the Geneva Accords partitioned Vietnam in 1954, the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem requisitioned the mansion as headquarters of an administration that served as a bridge between the national government and the provincial authorities. Diem was from Hue and his brother, Ngo Dinh Can, was the city’s strongman. No doubt, the Ngos' footfalls trod the corridors of the historic old mansion.

Gia Hoi Old Quarter

After the downfall of the Ngos in 1963, the last head of the governmental delegation abandoned the building to its former purpose as a government guest house. As the Hue city nexus for South Vietnamese officials, the mansion was a setting for intrigue and subterfuge throughout the war and a priority target during the Tet Offensive in 1968 for soldiers of the National Liberation Front, known in the West as the Viet Cong.

La Residence Hue, 1975

After the war, the Huong Giang Tourist Company acquired the property. For years after 1975, while Vietnam suffered the privations of an embargoed economy, the government guest house persevered as a down-on-its-heels, three-star hotel.

That all changed in the early 2000s, when a French investor acquired a share of the hotel and redeveloped the property as La Residence Hotel & Spa. The French group commissioned the construction of two annexes that were built as aesthetic complements to the original mansion. A renowned designer, who specialised in colonial aesthetics, re-imagined the interiors with jazzy panache.

In 2017, the hotel acquired new ownership. With plans for the most significant renovation in recent times, Azerai took charge of the hotel’s management in 2018.