West Side Story: “I like the island Manhattan”

On Sunday June 30th the DiMenna Children’s History Museum’s summer film series continues with the classic movie musical West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Come in from the heat, see it again, sing along, eat some popcorn, and introduce a new generation to this timeless love story set in New York City!


West Side STory


West Side Story was first a Broadway play, staged in 1957. In this photograph Jerome Robbins, the director and choreographer, is rehearsing the number “Cool.” Some of the lead actors are different in the movie version of West Side Story (Tony, Maria, and Anita) but you might recognize some of the supporting actors in this photograph who were also in the movie. You can find George Chakiris, who plays Bernardo in both productions, to the left of Robbins (in black).


Copyright The New York Public Library, Friedman-Abeles Photograph Collection, 1957

 The New York City in the West Side Story movie shows playgrounds, streets, cafes, rooftops, and alleyways, where the characters dance, sing, and act. Many of the scenes were shot in the west 60s, but the west side shown in this movie looks quite different from today. This area has had many names – Bloomingdale, Lincoln Square, San Juan Hill – and is now home to Lincoln Center.1  Some of the street scenes in West Side Story were shot right before the buildings in the San Juan Hill neighborhood were razed to start construction of the arts complex. The streets where the Jets and Sharks rumble could be directly under Lincoln Center’s fountain!

Sections of San Juan Hill being destroyed to make way for Lincoln Center. The New York Times, Eddie Hausner, 1959

After the film, don’t forget to visit the DiMenna Children’s History Museum’s Historical Viewfinder exhibit, where you can choose a borough and then flip through now and then views of photographs throughout the city!




1 Collins, Glenn. “50 Years In, Lincoln Center’s Name Is Still a Mystery.” The New York Times 11 May, 2009.



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