Monday, March 21, 2011

Laughter and Sylvia

Yesterday was the first day of spring and blossoms abound in certain areas of the city - primarily the West End though the yellow bush was taken under the Granville Street Bridge.

This grand old building is at the corner of Beach Avenue and Gilford Street. The Sylvia Hotel was built in 1912 by  Booker, Campbell and Whipple Construction Company and designed by Seattle architect W.P.White. The original owner, Mr. Goldstein, named the building for his daughter Sylvia.

Originally this landmark building was known as the Sylvia Court Apartments but during the depression the building and its residents fell on hard times and in 1936 it became an apartment hotel.

During World War II many of the suites were converted to rooms to provide accomodations for the crew of the merchant marine.

The terracotta extension is softened by the Virginia Creeper that now covers the Gilford Street side of the building.

It is a lot easier to see the foliage on the walls when there are leaves and greenery. But it is still too early in the season for that.

In 1954 Vancouver's first cocktail bar opened at the Sylvia Hotel and until 1958 the Sylvia was the tallest building in the West End. In fact the hotel restaurant's slogan was 'Dine in the Sky'.

'Mr. Got to Go' is a famous Sylvia Hotel cat that has inspired two children's books. Written by Lois Simmie and illustrated by Cynthia Nugent these charming tales tell of a stray cat who arrives at the hotel one day and ends up taking over. American folk singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler also mentions a cat in a song she wrote about the hotel. Wonder if it is the same one?

And what about the person the building was named after? Sylvia Ablowitz grew up in the West End and often swam in English Bay. She even won a race between the bay and Kitsilano Beach.
After graduating from the University of British Columbia, Sylvia moved with her family to Los Angeles where she worked for a labour union. She returned to Vancouver in 1928 where she met her husband Harry Ablowitz when she attracted his attention by diving into False Creek from a boat carrying Jewish singles on a cruise.

Sylvia and her husband founded a reality company and settled in North Vancouver. The couple were devoted to helping Jewish seniors and kept involved with Jewish community groups. They helped set up a rest home and hospital that have now been in operation for nearly sixty years. In her 90s Sylvia volunteered for a telephone home-check program that assisted other Jewish seniors. In 2002 Sylvia died at the UBC Hospital at the age of 102.

These interesting figures are a patinated bronze art display at the corner of Davie Street and Beach Avenue. It is called A-MAZE-ING LAUGHTER and was created by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun. He modeled the joyous face after his own face in a state of hysterical laughter. Doesn't it make you feel good just to look at them?

Before I go I would like to wish the most important woman in my life a belated happy birthday. I hope you have many more Mommy.

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