A few months ago Hanoi lost one of its oldest buildings and landmarks, the Halico Factory. Founded in 1898 at 94 Lo Duc by the Fontaine Company, the recently demolished liquor factory was one of the first major constructions to be built by the French — it outlasted almost all of its architectural contemporaries. If anything, the site was a memorial to all the changes that the city has seen over the past century.
The factory held many roles over its 116-year history — as the largest colonial factory, supplier of medicinal alcohol, host of wartime bunkers, participant in Eastern bloc liquor fairs and producer of some of the highest quality liquor in Vietnam. It even had a stint as a Japanese controlled prison in the 1940s.
A friend took me to see the factory a few weeks ago. An avid explorer of the city, she had discovered the old factory by chance. Parking the scooter in front of an expanse of rubble she turned to me in shock. “It’s gone,” she said. “I was just here a few weeks ago and now it’s gone.”
That’s Hanoi for you. Buildings are always disappearing.
We poked our heads through the flimsy corrugated iron gates, trying to picture what was there before. Piles of crumbling red bricks, cakes of cement, metal pipes, bamboo poles and old trash stretched half a kilometre before us. “You can still see one of the original chimneys,” my friend said, pointing to where a group of women in conical hats were rummaging through the mess in search of anything valuable or useful.
Although it seemed the factory had disappeared overnight, in actuality, it wasn’t meant to have made it past the summer of 2012. Originally slated for demolition years ago, Word published an article about the factory in April 2012 and reported that Halico had built a new factory on the outskirts of the city.
A quick Google search of the old address at 94 Lo Duc reveals that the now rubble-filled lot is to be the site of two new 21-storey apartment complexes designed by Australian-owned firm Brown and Associates–Architects. But there is one reminder of the historic factory. On the corner stands a bright blue umbrella with white Halico lettering stamped across it, under which you can still buy plastic bottles filled with the famous wine.