Coronado Library To Host Play On John D. Spreckels And His Wife - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Coronado Library To Host Play On John D. Spreckels And His Wife

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Posted: Monday, October 5, 2015 12:48 pm

The name John D. Spreckels has been tied to Coronado for almost as long as the city has been around. Spreckels bought the Hotel del Coronado from the original owners and lived in the mansion across the street now the Glorietta Bay Inn. In 1909, he donated the library to the city  and a park is named after him.

Unless you are a historian you probably are not aware of the details about his life, but on Thursday, Oct. 8 you have a chance to learn more about John D. Spreckels by attending the premiere of the stage play “The Diaries of John and Lillie Spreckels” written by Debbie Watts based on her book “John and Lillie Spreckels: Diaries, Desserts and San Diego Dreams.”  The two-person play features Watts playing Lillie and Tom Dolan playing John D. Watts. Dolan also directs the play. “John and Lillie” will be performed in the Winn Room of the library at 7 p.m. The play is part of the 125th anniversary of the city.

Watts, a retired teacher who lives in Nashville, has been a frequent visitor to Coronado for the past eight years. She spent three years reading about Spreckels before writing her book; to give a correct representation of  the couple, Watts used the Austin Adams File,  a book published in 1925 about John D. Spreckels as her guide. 

This is not Watts’ first play. She has written and performed a similar play with Dolan about famous and influential couple Tom and Bettie Ryman of Nashville, Tn. She first wrote a book about the couple in 2012 and adapted it for a play the following year. Watts had penned two other books about education. She was a music and English teacher for 26 years. 

Watts has composed original songs for the Spreckels play which she will perform on the piano. “We know Lillie sang and Spreckels played the piano,” said Watts. In fact, Lillie was a singer in a music hall in Hoboken, NJ when the two met. John D. grew up in North Carolina until the family moved to San Francisco when he was 10 years old, then moved to San Diego after the big earthquake. At the time when John D. met his future wife, he was working in a chemical lab in New York but stayed in a hotel in New Jersey. He would take the ferry every day since he loved the water and sailing, explained Watts. Following his marriage to Lillie, the couple went to Hawaii for six months for a working vacation to oversee a sugar refining plant. While in Hawaii, there are stories about Lillie learning to play the ukulele and teaching native girls to braid their hair. 

“Tom is a master of vocalization. He is giving Spreckels a slight German accent. His father was a first generation American. [John D.] Spreckels went to college in Germany,” said Watts. Although there are no references to Spreckels having a German accent, Watts decided it would add charm to the character.

The play covers the years from 1877 to 1923 when Lillie passes away. Watts, as the character Lillie, has 10 costume changes and she believes the women will love that. Watts plans on getting feedback from the public the night of the play and will possibly write more songs for the performance. The duo hopes to offer the play at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego next year in an off Broadway stage called the Raw Space, perfect for a two-person show.

Watts will speak to the Soroptimist Club the morning of the play and the following day, Friday, Oct. 9 she will address the Coronado Historical Association on the topic of how to write a historical play and take it to the stage.

Heidi Wilson of the Cultural Arts Commission worked with Watts to bring the play to Coronado. “It seems like the perfect time for her piece to premiere. Spreckels was an integral part of Coronado, a founding father…it’s exciting to see those characters come to life,” she said.

Christian Esquevin, Coronado Public Library director of library services is looking forward to the play. “I’ve been corresponding with Debbie for several months. John D. Spreckels was the benefactor who provided the library in 1909. I thought it was very fitting to offer the play based on John and Lillie. It’s something very appealing to be able to offer it to our public. We expect a good crowd. It should be entertaining and informative…not too many people know Lillie; she was not the public face of the Spreckels family,” he said.

During her extensive research, Watts found out Spreckels had charm and he knew how to turn it on a off. “The ladies will fall in love with him,” said Watts of the character.

“The Diaries of John and Lillie Spreckels” will be performed Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. in the Winn Room. Performance is free.

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