Will Hammerstein Evokes Memories of His Grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein ll

 
 
On November 16, 2016, Warrington Rotary member Ruth Zeiner invited Will Hammerstein to speak at our meeting.
 
Doylestown Observer Reporter June Portnoy captured the presentation in an article published recently.  Here is her report, copied with her permission.
 
Oscar Hammerstein’s Doylestown Home to Become a Museum
 
By
 
June Portnoy
 
During a Warrington Rotary Club monthly meeting on November 16, Will Hammerstein, grandson of legendary Oscar Hammerstein II, announced his plans to convert his grandfather’s Doylestown Home, Highland Farm, into a museum.
 
Ruth Zeiner, a Rotary Club Member from Warrington, met Will while tuning his piano at his New Hope home, and having read about his quest to save his grandfather’s house, invited him to update the rotary members on his progress.
 
Will was thrilled to announce that as of the previous day, the Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center, the non-profit organization Will established in 2011, received the official court order allowing them to build a museum at Highland Farm, located at 70 East Road.
 
 “We will restore Highland Farm as best we can to conduct house tours, so visitors get a feel for what life was like while Oscar was living there and to learn about his background,” described Will.
 
 
 
Oscar had had a couple of modest hits when he and Jerome Kern teamed up to produce the hit, “Show Boat” in the late 1920’s.
 
Despite this success, during the Great Depression, Oscar had a lull in his career. His wife, Dorothy, suggested they move to the country because Oscar loved country living.
 
They bought Highland Farm in 1940, and just one year later, Richard Rodgers, who had a very successful career on Broadway at the time, stopped by their home on his way back from a Philadelphia show on which he was working, to see if Oscar wanted to establish a partnership with him. 
 
Their first hit musical together was “Oklahoma!”
 
For the next 20 years, Oscar wrote his entire catalogue of Rodgers & Hammerstein iconic musicals at Highland Farm, the location where his career was reestablished.
 
Many of Oscar’s lyrics were inspired by the nature surrounding his home.
 
Will told how the lyric, “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,” from “Oklahoma!” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” was written while Oscar looked through his study window at a meadow outside.
 
Also while living at Highland Farm, Oscar mentored American composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. According to Will, Stephen once said, Oscar taught him “more about songwriting and the musical theater in one day than most people learn in a lifetime.”
 
Will said, “If you add up all the Academy Awards, Tony Awards, Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes generated by shows that were written at Highland Farm, and you add to that the number of awards that Steven Sonheim received, it adds up to 75 and counting at one place.
 
Ironically, Will had never been inside of Highland Farm until 2010 during his 30th high school reunion at the George School in Newtown.
 
When preparing for his reunion, he discovered Highland Farm was a Bed & Breakfast, so he made reservations to stay at his grandfather’s former home. 
 
Will explained that when his grandparents bought Highland Farm it had been 40 acres, which they later expanded to 70 acres.  It had also had a working cow farm that had not been used since his grandfather passed away at Highland Farm in 1960, at which time his grandmother sold the house.
 
When Will visited this home, it was down to five acres and had been approved for a four-lot division, which would have been the end of Highland Farm.
It was at this time that Will began advocating to save this property and turn it into a museum.
 
After seven years, Will finally got the green light to build the museum on this property.
His vision was to conduct house tours for visitors to learn about Oscar’s background and his contributions to theater while standing in the actual location where he wrote his most famous musicals.
 
Will’s original hope was to construct and attach a theater to the barn where guests could go after visiting the museum to see live Rodgers & Hammerstein shows.
 
However, due to zoning restrictions, Will could not place the theater at Highland Farm.
 
 “I have thoughts for another site in Doylestown for the theater,” said Will, “and the chances are not unreasonable that it could materialize there.”
 
If this theater comes to fruition, Will’s overall concept will become a reality.
 
His ultimate goal is for guests to take the house tour and then visit a browsing museum in the farm filled with artifacts dating back to Oscar’s time living at Highland Farm.         
 
If a nearby theater is secured, the museum will also conduct five rotating tours at Highland Farm that correspond to whatever show is being performed at the theater.
 
Will explained that there will be one tour for the “Oklahoma!” time period, one for the “Carousel” time period, one for “South Pacific,” one for “The King and I” and one for “The Sound of Music,” and perhaps some others over time.
 
For now, the Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center’s immediate objective is to restore Highland Farm, attempting to replicate Oscar’s home as close to the original as possible.
 
To accomplish this goal, the barn needs to be completely renovated, the house must be painted white, and the shutters must be painted green.
 
The time frame is to have these restorations completed is within two years. The current restoration estimate is $10 million, so in order to make this project succeed, the Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center is seeking donations.
 
Will concluded by saying, “If we get $20 from every “Sound of Music” fan, we can easily achieve our goal.”
 
Help keep Oscar Hammerstein’s Doylestown legacy alive by making a donation on www.hammersteincenter.org.  Also, visit The Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center on Facebook.
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Warrington Rotary President, Vish Patel, Will and Ruth Zeiner