Manny P. here…
A plan to convert the former home of Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II into a tourist attraction appears to have created a conflict. But, his grandson hopes public officials will soon start singing a different tune. The composer spent 20 years at Highland Farm in suburban Philadelphia, where he co-wrote musical blockbusters, such as Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I, and South Pacific. Will Hammerstein wants to turn the property into the Oscar Hammerstein II Music and Theatre Education Center. However, Doylestown Township supervisors and neighbors object to the scale of the $20 million proposal, saying it’s too much development for the parcel. A zoning hearing will be held on January 12th.
Hammerstein purchased Highland Farm in 1940, and it was there he and Richard Rodgers formed their creative partnership. The farm was the locale where they worked together on The Sound of Music, and other productions. James, his youngest son, attended nearby George School with Stephen Sondheim, who became a frequent visitor to the farm. Sondheim followed in Oscar’s path, penning lyrics to Into the Woods and West Side Story. After Hammerstein died of cancer at his beloved farm in 1960, his widow sold the land.
There were many owners over the years, losing acreage as the plot was subdivided in a largely suburban county. Current owner Christine Cole has turned the main building into a bed-and-breakfast, with each room dedicated to musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein. RICHARD RODGERS / OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II
Then, Will Hammerstein made a reservation at the B&B in 2010. He was in town for a reunion at George School. Together, Cole and Hammerstein came up with an idea for a classic Broadway fan experience: a house tour, a museum exhibit in the barn and capped off with an actual performance. It would require building a 400-seat venue, plus a parking lot on the now five-acre lot.
Adjacent property owners have major concerns about noise, traffic, and storm water runoff, according to their lawyer. The zoning board meeting isn’t the only hurdle; approvals from other commissions would be required before ground could be broken. And then there’s fundraising. Will Hammerstein, a lawyer living in Brooklyn, incorporated a nonprofit to help.
Members of the local arts council expressed enthusiasm for the project, as it would add cache to a region that already boasts the James A. Michener Museum and Pearl S. Buck House — authors who were both good friends with Oscar Hammerstein.
In spite of the imposing odds, the collaborative team wishes to make the Pennsylvania hills alive with the sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Hopefully, they will succeed.
Until next year> “never forget”