The published accounts will tell you that the much-loved Sylvia was built by Abraham Goldstein, and named for his daughter, Sylvia. The hotel started life as the Sylvia Apartments, and was named for Mr. Goldstein’s eldest daughter. However, according to his marriage certificate Mr Goldstein’s name was Adolf, and he was born in Russia, and the 1901 census has him as Adolph, born in Germany, while in the 1911 census he was shown as A D Goldstein and being born in Poland. Eastern European borders were often changing and confused, but it’s almost certain that Mr. Goldstein came from the Pale of Settlement, the area of Russia created by Catherine the Great in 1791 that Jewish settlers were allowed to move to. His wife, Sarah Jonas, came from Timaru, New Zealand, and they married in Vancouver in October 1899, and first show up in the Street Directory in 1900. Sarah’s father was known as Moss, but he had been born Moses Jonas, in Brighton, England, became a seaman and having moved to Timaru was an auctioneer, built a theatre, the town’s synagogue, and was elected mayor.
In 1903 A D Goldstein was a manufacturer’s agent living on Pender Street (the same occupation as in the 1901 census), but by 1906 he was shown as a financial broker. The family are identified on the 1911 census with 11-year-old Sylvia, Cyril, aged eight and Aileen who was two. Sarah’s sister, Clara Gossage was living with them, and so was J M Goldstein, Adolph’s brother, and a four year old nephew. There was also a domestic servant, K F Pearson.
In 1913 when his $250,000 investment, designed by Seattle architect W P White and built by Booker, Campbell & Whipple was completed, Mr. Goldstein was still listed as Adolph, still a financial broker, living on Pendrell St. (He had G H Moon design alterations to his home and added a garage, also in 1913). Isaac Goldstein was working with him, living on Nelson Street. In 1914 Mr. Goldstein’s name appears for the first time as Abe, no doubt in part because having a German name wasn’t necessarily a comfortable experience at that time. Isaac Goldstein appears to have left the city around 1916.
In 1923 Abe D Goldstein is shown as the proprietor of the Sylvia Apartments, and Cyril is shown living at home on Pendrell, working as a law student at Tupper and Bull. Sylvia was at home as well. The family moved to the US that year. In 1930 Abraham and Sarah were living in Los Angeles with their son, Cyril. Sylvia went with them, having obtained a degree from UBC. However, she returned to Vancouver, and while taking a boat trip with a group of Jewish singles caught the attention of her future husband, Harry Ablowitz, by diving off the boat into False Creek. (She was a strong swimmer, having been taught by Joe Fortes). The couple were married in 1928 and settled in North Vancouver, later founding a realty company.
Both Sylvia and Harry Ablowitz were active in the Vancouver business community and in numerous Jewish organizations. Sylvia sat on the board of many Jewish community groups and helped to establish the Jewish Community Centre, the Louis Brier Home, a hospital at Oak and 41st Avenue and a golf course. She was a member of the National Council of Jewish Women and, until her mid-90s, was still volunteering her services with the Jewish Family Service Agency, doing telephone checks for isolated seniors. She died at UBC hospital aged 102.
Our image shows the hotel in 1932 when it was still surrounded by houses and dominated the newly-planted street. In 1936, the Sylvia Hotel, then in receivership, was transformed into an apartment hotel and by the beginning of the Second World War, many of the suites had been converted into single rooms. While many hotels in Vancouver ended up as apartments or SRO hotels, the Sylvia went the opposite way. By the 1960s it had become a full-service hotel. Prior to the building boom in the West End during the 1960s, The Sylvia’s dining room was on the eighth floor with a slogan of “first-class dining in the sky,” Today it has been relocated to ground floor level, and offers one of the best views out over English Bay, past the trees that in summer now obscure the view from the upper floors.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-2632