Wharton Studio Inc.

Before Hollywood, There was Ithaca:

“The garden spot of the east.” That’s what Theodore Wharton, general director, producer, and

writer for Essanay Studios called Ithaca while visiting nearby Ludlowville in 1912. Enchanted

by the region, he shot a Cornell v. Penn State football game being played on Percy Field [now

Ithaca High School] and his holiday reel became Football Days at Cornell.

The spectacular landscape of Ithaca, the iconic college town, with its effusive waterfalls and lush

habitat, was so enticing, Wharton returned the following year with a cast and crew to shoot

numerous photoplays for Essanay’s The Hermit of Lonely Gulch.

In 1914 Ted’s brother, Leopold, joined him and the two created Wharton, Inc. using a house on

Thurston Avenue as their office and the city, their ad hoc studio. They hired artisans,

electricians, and crews from around the Ithaca area. Locals were cast in supporting roles, and as

extras, and on any given set one might find cops, businessman, bored housewives, and/or

Onondagan Indians from the Syracuse area tribe. Ithacans opened their doors to the brothers,

lending them furniture, decorations, and the houses themselves.

The following year the Whartons moved into their newly renovated studio in Renwick Park [now

Stewart Park]. The park, with its existing pavilions, a tower [since destroyed by Hurricane Hazel

in 1954] and verdant location at the foot of Cayuga Lake, offered both the space to construct sets

and the natural scenery they so skillfully wove into their scripts.

Actors Lionel Barrymore, Irene Castle, Pearl White, Oliver Hardy, and Theda Bara would travel

on the Black Diamond passenger train from Manhattan to Ithaca and back again in little over 16

hours. It was a welcomed respite from the bustling metropolis.

Ithaca was bewitched by the relatively new art form of filmmaking and the glamour it brought to

the rural/urban community, but in 1919, as serials began to make a natural progression toward

features, the Whartons lost the Renwick Park studio to creditors. Grossman Pictures and Cayuga

Pictures leased the studio soon after, making a movie each, before closing down.

Ted and Leo Wharton made over 700 one- and two-reelers in the five years they set up shop on

the shores of Cayuga. It was their ingenuity, their ability to fly by the seat of their pants, that

formed the blueprint for what would soon become Hollywood.

Photographs

Rescue Scene from "Romance of Elaine"
Trolley Stunt for "Prince of India" Film
Building Set Used in Patria
Fake Fire Truck
Oland & Mike for Patria set
Inside the Studio

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Wharton Studios

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