A Gatsby summer afternoon.

An Art Deco Californian

By Alice Jurow

In January 2004, the Art Deco Society of California lost one of its greatest friends and supporters, William W. Whitney. He died at age 88, active and productive almost to the very end.

William Whitney joined the Art Deco Society as a lifetime Sophisticate member in 1986. Over the years he continued to give so generously to the society that we had to come up with a new designation: he became the first of our Top Hat donors. But William Whitney gave immeasurably much more to all of us than his kind financial help. He was a remarkable cultural force for Art Deco preservation.

My friendship with Mr. Whitney began in earnest in 1997. I had taken on the editorship of The Sophisticate, the society's journal, and the first issue with my name on the masthead had just come out. My phone rang around 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I groggily answered. Annoyance turned to pleasure as William Whitney deluged me with a flood of praise for the magazine and invited me to visit him "at the cocktail hour" later that week.

That visit, to William's beautiful art-filled home, became the first of many and launched a new phase of his contributions to the Art Deco Society. He wrote three wonderful articles for The Sophisticate. Though he always lavished praise on my work in editing his pieces, they needed almost nothing. He wrote beautifully in a strong, stylish longhand.

For his piece on the artist Mac Harshberger, we worked closely together on the page design concept. After it was done, William suggested we put together a book proposal for a coffee-table book, an expanded version of the material, since he had an extensive archive of wonderful photos and drawings. Over the next year, we shopped it around to agents and publishers. William took on the publishing industry with amazing energy and verve, but eventually, after heaing many variations of, "Personally I love it, but I don't think it would sell," he accepted defeat philosophically.


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