He spent the evening wearing an ear-to-ear smile.

My longtime friend Herb Frank couldn't have been happier. It had taken five years of jumping through hoops, crossing the t's and dotting the i's that have become synonymous with most building projects in Madison.

But now here it was, no longer a dream but reality — a stupendous new music venue for Madison, located just off East Washington Avenue, once the city's most blue-collar neighborhood that's being reborn as a bustling new housing and entertainment district.

Although Herb, now in his 80s, isn't the driving force behind Frank Productions he once was — his sons Larry and Fred and an entourage of young go-getters now run the show — he was the center of attention at an opening reception earlier this week.

Ah, yes, the Sylvee. And what a place it is, a thoroughly modern, stylish and sparkling venue for bands and voices, a place where some of the best up-and-coming musicians and those who have already made their mark can show their stuff, accented with creative artwork by the geniuses at Zebradog.

That the Franks chose to name this fabulous place the "Sylvee" after their mother and Herb's late wife Sylvia speaks volumes about the family and its togetherness.

My wife and I were among the lucky ones to know Syl, a Chicago native who met Herb when they both worked at the old Oriental Theater in the Loop, a live theater that had been turned into a movie house in the late '50s. (It's been restored and is back to live theater again, where next month it will host the return of the "Book of Mormon.") She and Herb and their young family moved to Madison back in 1963 to take over management of the old Capitol Theatre on State Street and its sister movie house, the Majestic on King.

When the Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum was built in 1967, Herb and Syl contracted with the county to run the box office and that soon blossomed into a promotion company that brought big-name shows to the Coliseum — stars like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Springsteen, David Bowie. They were instrumental in making Madison a must-stop on many entertainers' world tours.

Soon sons Larry and Fred and their wives got involved and quickly Frank Productions expanded, booking shows throughout the Midwest, including blockbusters like Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and U2 before audiences of 60,000 in Camp Randall.

Syl was the rock that got Frank Productions off the ground and propelled it into what today has become one of the most successful production companies in show business. But she was much more than a hardworking businesswoman. She was an incredible mother to Larry and Fred and Michael, gathering the families together for birthdays, anniversaries and the Jewish holidays.

Sandy and I were sometimes invited to attend, and there we immediately discovered that no grandkids had a better grandmother than Syl, who would not only put up with her never-ending prankster husband, but make sure everyone was having a good time.

It was profoundly sad when cancer claimed this dynamic lady back in 2006 just after she turned 69.

Twelve years have passed, but her name will live on at the new Sylvee, a tribute from her family that will always represent all she meant to them and the many other people she touched.

It was no wonder that Herb was smiling.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. 

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