Historic Vancouver: Sylvia Hotel Turns 100

Photo credit: Stephen Dyrgas | Flickr

Photo credit: Stephen Dyrgas | Flickr

The views from Vancouver’s English Bay are hard to resist: ocean, snowcapped mountains, a cruise ship or two headed to sea.  But turn back toward shore and you’ll be rewarded with something more: a mini lesson on Vancouver history.

Beach Avenue is lined with architecture that marks Vancouver’s march from West Coast outpost to cosmopolitan mecca.  There’s a mock-Tudor-style apartment block, bleak ’70s-era concrete towers, gleaming new condo high-rises with mirrored glass and – most impressive of all – the eight-story, ivy-covered Sylvia Hotel.

It was 1913 when the Sylvia first opened her doors as a 77-unit apartment block.  At the time, Beach Avenue was still lined with houses, an idyllic residential suburb removed from the bustle of downtown.

A century later, English Bay has been swallowed by downtown Vancouver but the Sylvia  remains almost unchanged – a graceful reminder of a simpler time.

When the building first opened, the Vancouver Sun lavished it with praise, pointing out the marble finishings and “modern gas stoves,” according to a great article by the Sun’s John Mackie.  Wealthy tenants paid rents ranging from $35-$65, per month.  The Sylvia boasted Vancouver’s first cocktail lounge and even had a top-floor restaurant called Dine in the Sky.

Fast-forward to the present and the Sylvia is still going strong, now as a 120-room hotel.  In fact, it’s widely regarded as one of the best bargains in the city.  When no less an authority than the New York Times Frugal Traveler visited, he called the Sylvia “stately and solid” and praised the airy, open rooms available at budget prices.

As you’d expect from an older building, no two rooms in the Sylvia are alike.  Touches like marble stairways, stained-glass entryways and even actual metal keys (as opposed to swipe cards) hint at its venerable past.  During the off-season, rooms rent for as little as $100 a night, another throwback to a bygone era.

And for visitors hoping to soak up some of the ambiance without staying the night, there’s Sylvia’s Lounge, the ground-floor bar whose big windows look out to English Bay. Sipping a cocktail here, it’s easy to imagine sitting alongside Hollywood icon and one-time Sylvia’s regular Errol Flynn, who spent many an evening drinking here in the 1950s (and is even rumoured to have died at the hotel in 1959).

Anyone have any Sylvia Hotel stories? Let us know!

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