Remembering Geoffrey Shlaes, Spreckels Theatre Director

Geoffrey C. Shlaes, theatre executive and managing director of the historic Spreckels Theatre, died on Jan. 14 at his home in San Diego. The cause was a heart attack.

Geoffrey C. Shlaes in his favorite portrait.

Geoffrey C. Shlaes in his favorite portrait.

He was a son, husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many in the dance theater community. His position with the Spreckels Theatre continued a family legacy as the third generation to operate the historic venue.

As managing director from 1976-1979 he supervised its conversion from a first run motion picture house back to a live presentation venue, before leaving for a dynamic theater career in New York. He returned to San Diego in recent years to help his family operate the theatre and business activities, booking, special projects, and restorations for the Spreckels Centennial Celebration.

He worked to open the Spreckels to the International Fringe Festival. He donated the main theatre, and converted a former USO Club that had been closed since the 1970s into a black box, reopened as the RAW Space.

Along with the Fringe Fest, he welcomed many dance, theater and music organizations to the Spreckels: City Ballet of San Diego, San Diego Dance Theater, Malashock Dance, The PGK Dance Project, La Jolla Music Society, San Diego Musical Theatre, Culture Shock Dance Troupe, Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival, and more.

He supported the San Diego Press Club and permanent office in the Spreckels Building.  He couldn’t wait to start a backstage tour for Press Club members that included a surprise dance performance and stories about famous productions and stars.

Spreckels Theatre

The Spreckels Theatre opened in 1912.

“It’s a shock for the family and all of us,” said theatre manager Shaun Davis, who worked closely with Shlaes for many years. “Geoff was always athletic. He played football at Beverly Hills High, and he loved directing theater in New York. His mom, Jacquie (Jacquelyn Metzger Littlefield), always wanted to preserve the Spreckels and he helped her do that.”

Ms. Littlefield is in her 90s and can often be seen attending concerts, especially City Ballet productions. She and her sons, Geoff and John, often stopped at Dobson’s around the corner afterward. She’d order a martini. That tradition has ended.

When I saw Geoff in December, he was sitting alone on a bench in the Spreckels lobby. He had been suffering from a neuropathy called drop foot that made it difficult for him to stand. I sat next to him and we watched the crowd file in for City Ballet’s The Nutcracker. “I lost my brother John to cancer on Thanksgiving,” he whispered. I knew John was very ill, but didn’t know he had passed away. I could hardly speak and flashed to my last conversation with him about arts reporting. Moreover, I didn’t know it would the last time I’d talk to my friend Geoff about the Spreckels, dance and theater events.

Geoff Shlaes died Jan. 14, 2016. He is survived by his wife Susan LaFollette, daughter Rachael Shlaes Liberman, granddaughter Maya, mother Jacquelyn Metzger Littlefield, and extended family. A service was held in Los Angeles on Jan. 17.

John B. Shlaes passed away Nov. 26, 2015.  He is survived by his wife Kay, and children Darren and Katie. His formal obituary appears in The Washington Post.

Mr. Davis said Melissa Abehsera, their sister, will take over as Executive Director of the Spreckels Theatre.

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