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GEORGE & LEO WHITNEY’s ELECTRIC STUDIO & LUNA PARK, MELBOURNE

There is no evidence that this postcard has ever gone through the post. However there are certain intriguing reasons to spin a tale about it for the 2 American brothers who were photographers in Melbourne for perhaps a decade had a significant role to play in the formation of Melbourne’s Luna Park. The postcard advertises the Whitney Bros. Electric Studios, Bourke Street, Melbourne. It also has 2 additional advertising features contained in a circle, on the left ‘Day or Night Lightno Process’ and on the right ‘Finished While You Wait’, the latter phrase being the photo studio’s greatest selling point. It was addressed to B.R. Wright, Public Library, Swanston Street,City MELB., the significance of which has not been followed up (Figure 1).

The vendor described the photo as being a ‘trick photo’ for at first appearance the same person appears to be sitting around a single table in 5 different places, but it has been argued that 2 images facing forward may be different to the 2 men facing each other. The vendor ascribes a date of ca. 1910 as a possibility, and the provenance of the photo is almost certain that it was taken in the Whitney Studio in Melbourne (Figure 2).

The Sands and MacDougall Melbourne Directory revealed under the heading of ‘Photographers’ the Whitney Brothers were found from 1912 to 1924, as follows: in 1913 there was a company called the American Photo Company at 118 Bourke Street, Melbourne, the proprietor being A.C. Bray. From 1914 the American Photo Company does not mention the proprietor’s name, but in 1919 the company is no longer listed as the American Photo Co., but is called Whitney Brothers, at the same Bourke Street address. The Whitney brothers continued at this address until 1922, but they do not appear in any later years at the premises at 118 Bourke Street. However, the premises at 118 Bourke Street continued to be a photographic studio.

The only other Australian reference to the company was found in the Melbourne Argus of 8 November 1916, on p. 4 which heads an article as THIEVES AT WORK, FIREARMS and JEWELLERY and continues as follows: Eric George Cook, manager of Whitney Bros. shooting gallery, in Bourke St. found during the firm’s closure that 5 rifles and 3,000 rounds of ammunition were stolen. However the jewellery was not related to The Whitney Bros. theft.

There are several other references to the Whitney brothers in relation to the opening of Melbourne’s Luna Park in December of 1912. This amusement park was successful with the public from its inception, and the Whitney Electric Photographic Studio with its ‘finished while you wait’ approach contributed to Luna Parks success. George Whitney was said to have had a more entrepreneurial spirit than his brother Leo, for he did not dry the print completely and sent the client away to wave it to finish the drying process, and this action was a good advertising ploy. The Whitney Brother’s photography was very innovative for they incorporated props, so that 2 young women were seen seated on a crescent moon. Another example is a postcard of people seated in a mock plane flying over Luna Park, which was issued by the Whitney Bros Electric Studio in 1910-1919 (Figure 3).

With the closure of the Melbourne Luna Park due to the falling off of visitors in 1916, the Whitney brothers returned to America, and almost a century later George K. Whitney Jr. was interviewed on tape in 2002 about his father, George and uncle, Leo. In this tape one learnt that there was a much more permanent association of the Whitney Bros. with Australia than previously told. George Jr.’s mother was born in Australia, and his aunt (who had married Leo) were like sisters in Australia. George Jr.’s sister was born in Australia, but he was born in San Francisco on his parent’s return to America. The brothers became involved in San Francisco’s Playland-at-the-Beach, and their involvement was described as follows: "Then, in 1923 George and Leo Whitney hit town. The Whitney Brothers opened a photographic concession in 1923 pioneering a fast photo-finishing process ... By 1924 the Whitney brothers owned four shooting galleries and a souvenir shop, in addition to the quick photo-studio....In 1926, George Whitney became general manager of the growing complex of sea-side attractions....which became to be known as Whitney’s-At-The-Beach. Initially the attractions were independent concessions....but George and Leo gradually bought them out... George bought his brother out in 1952 and continued to operate the area until his death in 1958. George Whitney was known as the "Barnum of the Golden Gate". A picture of George K. Whitney, Beatrice C. Gilman, Eva ‘Daisy’ C. Whitney and George K. Whitney Jr., on August 31, 1940 is seen in Figure 4.

Quite a remarkable history that followed after seeing a ‘trick’ postcard! I would be delighted to obtain more information on the Whitney Bros. and the Electric Studios in Australia.

I acknowledge the assistance of Kay Rowan, Local History Librarian at the City of Port Phillip, Melbourne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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