Chú Hoả, whose birth name is Hui Bon Hoa (Jean Baptiste Hui Bon Hoa), pronounced as Hứa Bổn Hỏa, is an important figure in the history of Saigon. Despite being ranked fourth in the saying “Nhất Sỹ, nhì Phương, tam Xường, tứ Hỏa lừng lẫy một thời” (First Sỹ, second Phương, third Xường, fourth Hỏa shone brightly in the past), Chú Hoả was the owner of over 40% of the real estate in Saigon at that time, possessing more than 30,000 houses in the most prime locations in Saigon.
According to legends, Chú Hoả had a humble background and earned a living through the trade of scrap metal and recycling. There are many unofficial stories about how he became wealthy, such as acquiring a bronze statue containing gold inside or successfully extracting gold from 20,000 old telegraph machines. However, there is no concrete evidence to confirm these stories.
Chú Hoả bought all the land in the center of Saigon and filled it to build Bến Thành Market, the largest market at that time, which still exists today. He also acquired all the surrounding land and owned 20,000 plots of prime land, which later increased to 30,000 plots. He rented out these houses, earning profits and investing in other construction projects.
Chú Hoả was the king of real estate in Saigon and contributed to shaping the city’s landscape. He owned over 30,000 houses scattered throughout the Saigon – Gia Định – Chợ Lớn area. In addition to renting out properties, he also invested in building mansions for his family and public facilities such as hospitals and hotels.
The constructions invested by Chú Hoả still exist and hold historical value, including Từ Dũ Hospital (previously known as Bảo sanh viện Đông Dương – Maternité Indochinoise) and Saigon General Hospital (previously known as Chẩn Y Viện).
In a nutshell, Chu Hoa is a pivotal person in the annals of Saigon’s past. Chu Hoa was a wealthy real estate investor who also made substantial contributions to the growth and development of the city.