From Broadway to Hollywood
After the 1957 Broadway musical became an international hit, Hollywood created its own version of West Side Story, which opened in 1961. Though the screenplay was reworked for film, and the order of some songs was switched, the most exciting elements of the musical remained: the dynamic choreography, the Shakespearean plot, and Leonard Bernstein’s classic songs and score. Using a combination of location shots in New York and stylized sets in Los Angeles, the filmmakers created a startling visual representation of the streets of Manhattan.
Lincoln Square: Original Setting. New York
West Side Story was originally set in the neighborhood of Lincoln Square, or San Juan Hill, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Until the 1950s, the neighborhood was predominantly African-American and Afro-Caribbean. Though it suffered from poverty and crime, it was also a cultural hotspot, especially for music. By the time the film was shot, the area was marked for demolition.
68th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York
The makers of West Side Story took advantage of the Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Project. Since buildings in and around Lincoln Square were scheduled to be demolished, the filmmakers were free to knock down walls, build fences, add graffiti, and otherwise modify the area as they needed for each scene.
110th Street, New York, New York
Since the real ‘West Side’ of the title West Side Story was being demolished, filmmakers looked for other sets that would capture the grit of New York City. This playground, in what is now Spanish Harlem, served as the location for much of the movie’s dramatic prologue. It was a mere coincidence that the neighborhood happened to be the city’s biggest hotspot for Puerto Rican immigrants.
‘The Lot,’ Formerly Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Los Angeles, California
The majority of West Side Story was not shot in New York City at all, but on large sound stages in West Hollywood, California. Here, a facility known as the Samuel Goldwyn Studio was home to United Artists, the studio that distributed West Side Story. Today, the location still hosts independent film studios, with sound stages available for rent by independent film companies.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Los Angeles, California
West Side Story premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City on 18 October 1961, scheduled so that the film would be eligible for the Oscars that would take place in April 1962. It opened the following month in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. This landmark theatre in Hollywood, familiarly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, was the site of the film’s glitzy Los Angeles premiere, which took place on 13 December 1961. By July 1962, it had opened in theaters across the country.
34th Academy Awards: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
In early 1963, the Academy Awards, or Oscars, were held in this auditorium. Though West Side Story competed with such critically acclaimed films as The Hustler with Paul Newman, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and the World War II drama Judgement at Nuremberg, the musical swept the awards, winning 10 of its 11 nominations. It still holds the record for most Oscars for a musical and is just one shy of the most Oscars of all time.
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