Hammerstein Grandson Says Highland Farm Is Not for Sale

News   Hammerstein Grandson Says Highland Farm Is Not for Sale
Plans are still afoot to turn it into a museum.
Highland Farm
Highland Farm Creative Commons

Highland Farm in Doylestown, PA, where lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote many of the classic songs for Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific and The King and I, is not on the market, according to a charitable organization that is managing the building's future. The organization, which is led by Hammerstein's grandson, William Hammerstein, said it is still trying to convert the building into a museum, and discouraged contributions to a Kickstarter campaign to buy the site.

In a statement from the group called Oscar Hammerstein’s Highland Farm, Inc. (OHHF), and shared with Playbill.com by William Hammerstein, the group said it wanted to “correct representations made in a May 18 report that appeared in the New York Post. The article implies that Highland Farm is publicly available for sale and urges the Broadway community to provide funding. These representations and public appeal for funding were not the representations of OHFF or its officers and does not accurately reflect on the current state of affairs.”

The building has been operating for the past nine years as a bed and breakfast owned by Christine Cole.

In 2014 William approached the local zoning board with a plan to turn it into a museum and a theatre. But his plan, estimated at $20 million, which would have required building a 400-seat venue, plus a parking lot for nearly 100 cars and several buses, on the five-acre lot, was denied over fears of “noise, traffic and stormwater runoff.”

William Hammerstein said Cole is still owner, but that OHHF “is in contract to purchase from her, pending the outcome of our legal appeal of the zoning decision.”

Alex Fraser, artistic director of the nearby Bucks County Playhouse, reportedly wants to turn it into a writers' retreat but lacks the funds. Post columnist Michael Riedel called for a Kickstarter campaign.

The OHHF responded, “OHHF has an exclusive agreement of sale with the owner of Highland Farm. Fund raising and related activities are set to reconvene by OHHF pending a final, negotiated resolution of our appeal in Bucks County Court. Any donations that have been made to an organization other than OHHF that has represented that the organization intends to purchase Highland Farm should be investigated by the donor to ensure that funds will be used as intended. Any organizations that have solicited and collected funding and would like to provide those funds to OHHF to support its initiatives are asked to contact OHHF Chief Financial Officer, Tanya Cooper.”

The 1840 farmhouse has a second claim to theatre fame. It wasn't far from the house where composer Stephen Sondheim’s lived with his mother after the end of her unhappy marriage. Teen Sondheim legendarily fled to Highland Farm, where he fell under the spell of the avuncular Hammerstein, and eventually resolved to follow in Hammerstein's footsteps and become a musical theatre writer himself.

It's also the place Hammerstein died in 1960.

The OHHF statement continued, ”Previous plans for the project included an on-site theater at Highland Farm. As part of the negotiation process with interested parties to our appeal, OHHF has agreed to remove the theatre from its plan for Highland Farm. Our plan is to convert the house and barn into a museum. We believe that this scaled-down plan will create the most ideal conditions for the surrounding community while still facilitating our ability to execute the mission of preserving both the farm and Oscar’s legacy. We are exploring alternate nearby locations for the theatre. ”

OHHF's Cooper included a separate statement, saying, “We are very optimistic about reaching a resolution that will serve key stakeholders as well as the community. We thank all involved in this process and value the care and concern of all parties to ensure that a mutually beneficial outcome is reached. We are extremely passionate about our mission to honor Oscar Hammerstein II’s legacy as a writer, lyricist and mentor and to uphold his personal values of resiliency, optimism and inspiring change.”

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