British Columbia

Plays highlight storied history of Sylvia Hotel

A pair of one-act musical plays make up Two Views from the Sylvia.

Two Views from the Sylvia is a pair of one-act musical plays

Adam Abrams as Abraham Goldstein, Tom Pickett as Joe Fortes, and Advah Soudack as Sylvia in Two Views from the Sylvia. (Ben Nelms/Note Photography)

A pair of one-act musical plays make up Two Views from the Sylvia.

Premiering Wednesday, Nov. 8 at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island, the first play, Sylvia's Hotel, tells the origin story of the Vancouver heritage building.

The second play, The Hotel Sylvia, touches on the characters woven into the history of the building. 

"It's a beautiful story, and it's really one man's vision to create a family legacy and a family's vision," said Advah Soudack, who plays Sylvia Goldstein, the hotel's namesake.

According to the city, the 1912 built Georgian style hotel was initially an apartment building, and housed Vancouver's first cocktail bar. It was also the tallest building in the West End until the late 1950s. 

The Sylvia Hotel was built in 1912, and at one time was the tallest building in Vancouver's West End. (Usgnus/Wikimedia Commons)

Sue Cohene is the producer of the plays, she said Sylvia Goldstein's great niece approached her to make the play. 

My understanding is that Abraham Goldstein wanted to do something for the city and for his family, and for his culture as well to be able to show that Jews were acceptable and cared about the city," said Cohene. "He said that he was going to build a hotel for his daughter."

Cohene said Goldstein built the hotel in a time when there was a lot of discrimination of minority groups. 

"As we see him in the show Abraham Goldstein is somebody who's proud of his heritage, of his Judaism, but he also wants to create a place in Vancouver where everyone is welcome, and he's coming up against a lot of the prejudice of the time," said Adam Abrams, who plays Sylvia's father, Abraham Goldstein. 

A portrait of Sylvia Goldstein, which hangs in the Sylvia Hotel. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC News)

The first play is set in 1912 and follows a young Sylvia and her friend, Vancouver's first lifeguard, Joe Fortes, as they negotiate the challenges of feeling as though they don't quite belong in Vancouver at the time. 

"He was a very big part of Sylvia's life. He was her teacher, her swimming teacher, and a good friend of the family and a good friend of hers," said Cohene.

Soudack says elements from the play connect her with the history of the Sylvia. 

"When you walk in the doors you do feel like you go back in time a little bit, and there's all these details in the architecture that is from another time," said Soudack.

"It's neat because in the play there's a song all about Abraham creating the Sylvia for his daughter, and so I'm sort of seeing like the marble that he sings about, and you know the drinking tea out of fine china."

Sylvia's Hotel, one of two plays featured, is set in 1912 near the time when the hotel was built. (Ben Nelms/Note Photography)

"I think one thing that theatre and drama can do is they can bring to life the stories," said Abrams. "Now when I walk into the Sylvia I have this vision, this feeling of the family very clearly who was involved and made it happen."   

The plays run until Sunday, Nov. 12.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and The Early Edition


Cory Correia

Associate Producer and Video Journalist

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