West Coast America in film: then and now

July 25, 2023
West Coast America, also known as the Pacific Coast, describes the coastal destinations across the mainland states of California, Oregon and Washington bordering the North Pacific Ocean. Known for the Mediterranean climate, cosmopolitan attitudes and creative lifestyles of their inhabitants, it’s no wonder that the West Coast is also home to coffee capitals Seattle and Portland, the original tech hub Silicon Valley and of course the epicentre of filmmaking, Hollywood.

The timeless legacy of the West Coast has been captured in some of the most celebrated movies of the 20th century. Read on to see how much these locations have changed from then to the present day. Or take a drive to the locations and see for yourself.

Seattle, Washington

The Slender Thread (1965)

Real icons stand the test of time. It’s true of Sydney Poitier. Of Anne Bancroft. And of the many landmark locations featured in The Slender Thread, the story of a college student trying to save the life of a desperate woman through a suicide prevention hotline.

Seattle, Washington where the film is set, is home to the Pacific Science Centre whose recognisable arches were designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect of the World Trade Centre. The beautiful water features, concrete structures and viewing tower are feats of contemporary design that looked as modern then as they do today.

Here, you can also drive down to Golden Gardens Park which is the moody beach setting featured in the film. It’s a huge public park that is home to wetlands and beaches as well as scenic hiking trails, picnic areas and playgrounds.

Portland, Oregon

Portland Exposé (1957)

The true crime classic Portland Exposé, is an American film noir inspired by crime boss Jim Elkins and his involvement with Portland’s criminal activities in the 1940s and 50s. The film portrays Portland’s seedy underbelly and the fascinating struggle for power between two criminal gangs and the working men they were seeking to control.

Many of the same buildings featured in the film are still standing to this day, including Pearl Auto Park, Portland Towers and the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Yet, despite these similarities, one drive through the Portland avenues of today tells a renewed story of The City of Roses.

Since the 1960s, a spirit of progressive counterculture has been burgeoning into a fully grown appetite for social justice, equal rights, environmentalism and of course, mind-enhancing stimulations of all kinds. In other words, an exposition of Portland today would stand at a glaring contrast from the Portland Exposé of the 1950s.

Los Angeles, Southern California

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

At the time of filming, the streets of Los Angeles in Rebel Without a Cause encapsulated a picturesque American suburbia, complete with white picket fences. This affluent setting perfectly juxtaposes against the anger, confusion and aimlessness of teenagehood as depicted by James Dean, who has become forever immortalised in the role. Today, although some fences stand taller to offer the featured houses more privacy, you can still drive by some of the film’s most memorable locations.

Santa Monica High School, which was called Dawson High School in Rebel Without a Cause, continues to be a thriving public school with nearly three thousand students in attendance.

And of course, anyone is free to drive up to the Griffith Observatory to see a stunning panoramic view of the whole city, including the Hollywood sign atop the hills.

So put both hands on the steering wheel. And seize the opportunity to relive some of the most era-defining scenes of the West Coast today.

Freemans Parc, Penarth Rd,
Cardiff, UK
CF11 8EQ
Freemans Parc, Penarth Rd,
Cardiff, UK
CF11 8EQ
© 2023 Hemmels Ltd