Reading the Sylvia

“In an old hotel covered with vines, there lived a large grey cat called Got to Go.”

This stray cat comes to the Sylvia Hotel in the West End of Vancouver on a typical rainy Vancouver day.

Mr. Foster, the hotel manager, says the cat can stay as long as the rain keeps falling, but as soon as it stops, “that cat’s got to go.” Conveniently for the cat, it rains for days and days. The hotel staff and guests become so fond of their feline friend that when the rain finally does let up, Got to Go is allowed to stay.

In my last post I focused on architexture from an architectural perspective – buildings that feature literary text. The Mister Got to Go children’s series by Lois Simmie demonstrates architexture from a literary perspective – books that reveal a spatial imagination.

There’s such a strong connection between this fictional book and the real place and cat that inspired it that there is even a section of the hotel’s lobby devoted to telling this story through visual art.

The fictional and the real cat

Artwork by Cynthia Nugent, featured as illustrations in the books

Stephen Osbourne also writes about the Sylvia Hotel. In an excerpt from For You Who Grow Pale at the Mention of Vancouver, he calls the hotel “an anachronistic stone structure of eight stories covered in immense growth of gnarled ivy that g[i]ves it the air of a literary personage wearing tweeds and leather patches on the elbows.”

After reading this description, I cannot help but picture this building as a wise and aged professor whose beard is the long, flowing ivy covering the face and sides of the building.

A literary personage

Osbourne isn’t just saying the hotel has character. He is saying the hotel is a character. It’s a literary personage. We often use literary language to describe certain architectural spaces when we say, “This building has character.” Osbourne literally makes the hotel a character, demonstrating the close relationship between architecture and literature.

Maybe it isn’t so farfetched to think about the Sylvia Hotel as a character. After all, the building is named after a real person. (You can read more about its history at The prominent way this hotel appears in Simmie’s and Osbourne’s books elevates this building from place to person, so that when we read the Sylvia Hotel, we are reading

a space that has character,

and a space that is character.

1 thought on “Reading the Sylvia

  1. Pingback: Pencil in the Past | textingthecity

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