The barn at Highland Farm. (Picture by Grace Alfiero)
I began working at Rodgers and Hammerstein in Could, 1981, nearly a yr and a half after Richard Rodgers handed away. My bosses have been Rodgers’s widow Dorothy and Invoice Hammerstein, the oldest youngster of Oscar. I knew Mary Rodgers and had met Dorothy however knew not one of the Hammersteins. After I met Invoice I discovered him to be avuncular, smart, contemplative, and cautious. He had been round lengthy sufficient to know the ins and outs of the connection between his father and Rodgers—difficult, sure, but in addition terribly fertile and constant.
Someday after I had been in cost for a couple of years I acquired a telephone name. The home that Oscar Hammerstein II had owned in Doylestown, Pa., Highland Farm, was available on the market, and for a worth that appeared modest—round $250,000. I knew that after Oscar died, his spouse Dorothy—coincidence that each males had wives named Dorothy?—had offered the home. Invoice and I had by no means had a dialog concerning the place and what it meant to the household. Perhaps somebody would really feel nostalgic sufficient to purchase it again? I put in a name to Invoice.
“Do you could have Hugh Fordin’s biography of my father close by?” he requested. I pulled it from the bookshelf. “Take a look at the aerial photograph of the home. Do you see the tennis court docket, beneath the round driveway?” Sure, I mentioned, it’s fairly clear. “Properly, there’s a main freeway working proper by way of the place the tennis court docket was. That’s the reason the value is what it’s.”
I used to be crushed. What a disgrace, I assumed. And that was the top of that.
Then a couple of years later I acquired one other name out of the blue. This one was from Christine Cole, the brand new proprietor of Highland Farm, who was working the home as a mattress & breakfast. She invited me down. My curiosity was piqued. I had by no means been to the home, didn’t actually know the place it was, however as president of Rodgers & Hammerstein I used to be at all times up for brand spanking new discoveries that had a connection to the work I used to be now charged to handle.
The driveway to the home was so modest that on first go, I missed it solely. Backtracking over the double freeway, I did discover it, and drove in. There was the round driveway, and the home. A chunk of historical past on the hoof, the place by which so lots of Oscar Hammerstein’s iconic lyrics and librettos had been written. Wow, I assumed.
Christine was a gracious host. We walked the property. Regardless of the lack of the tennis court docket, the remainder of the property nonetheless felt like a farmhouse, even the in-ground swimming pool—the primary in Bucks County—that Oscar had been very pleased with. She had assigned me what had been Oscar and Dorothy’s bed room. Throughout the corridor was the room that had been Oscar’s examine, the place, standing at his desk, he had executed his writing. The walkway across the porch roof was nonetheless intact. On the one hand I used to be in a beautiful outdated Pennsylvania farmhouse with, amusingly, the identical balusters on the staircase as my 1865 Carpenter Gothic home in Connecticut; however, it was a spot of extraordinary spirit by which so many artistically inspirational occasions befell.
Christine was not simply decided that the home stay standing—a mattress & breakfast with just a few bedrooms is a difficult monetary enterprise. Instinctively she felt that the historic worth of the place ought to be acknowledged and solidified. How may that occur, she puzzled?
In pretty brief order, Will Hammerstein, one in all Oscar’s 4 grandsons, turned dedicated to a future for Highland Farm. He dreamed massive: He wished to show the barn right into a theatre that might current productions of Oscar’s exhibits, flip the home right into a examine middle, put the place on a visual inventive map. Some fund-raising occasions befell at which Will’s ardour was clearly evident.
After some time, it didn’t appear to be the dream would come true. A number of the property surrounding the home was being eyed by a developer. A number of the sensible elements of making a public place in what had been a non-public dwelling turned extra evident. Issues, issues…
However there was an thought, and it wasn’t going to go away. Fortunately for everybody, some sensible native Pennsylvanians stepped in and noticed not solely the chances, however the significance of saving this piece of American cultural historical past. Why not flip the place right into a theatre museum and schooling middle?
That’s now the plan: The Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Schooling Middle is a 501(c)3 nonprofit group with the mission to honor Oscar Hammerstein II’s work as a librettist and lyricist, and his legacy of mentorship and social activism. The imaginative and prescient is to buy, restore, and protect the Hammerstein dwelling and barn at Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pa., and create a museum and theatre schooling middle on this historic website. With the purpose of making a multifaceted and dynamic museum expertise, with a robust theatre schooling part, serving as a spot of inspiration for Broadway followers and humanitarians alike, OHMTEC has raised almost $1 million towards the acquisition of Highland Farm. A further $1 million is required to finish the primary part of the mission, in order that the house may be opened to the general public as a museum. Donations of any quantity are welcome and may be made by verify, bank card or appreciated securities. Data may be discovered at hammersteinmuseum.org.
There are a couple of images in that Hugh Fordin guide displaying Hammerstein males sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of Highland Farm. The chairs are fairly particular—massive scale with round arms. After Invoice Hammerstein died, his spouse, Jane-Howard, gave me two of these rocking chairs. Though I saved them proudly on my porch in Connecticut, as soon as I received the sensation Highland Farm would have a future, I felt I ought to convey at the very least one in all them again. (I nonetheless have the opposite one…maybe I’ll discover the fitting time to convey it again as effectively!) These chairs are tangible reminders of the individuals who as soon as sat in them, whose conversations led to a few of the most extraordinary works within the American theatre.
Ted Chapin was president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Group for greater than 30 years.
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