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January 13, 2015

Proposed Hammerstein Museum faces opposition in Doylestown

Broadway legend's home might lose battle to open as museum, theater

"You brought music back into the house. I had forgotten," Captain von Trapp told Maria, played by Julie Andrews, in "The Sound of Music" (1965). 

Will Hammerstein, the grandson of Broadway's Oscar Hammerstein II, wants to build a 400-seat venue and museum erected in his name, on his former living grounds. But plans have stalled. 

Hammerstein, an environmental lawyer based in Brooklyn, New York, has high hopes for building The Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center on his grandfather's former 5-acre property, Highland Farm, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. But after a zoning board hearing Monday the matter remained unresolved. Discussions won't resume until March. 

Opposing the construction are three township officials. Neighboring residents have also joined forces with nearby Doylestown Country Club, Hammerstein told Parking requirements, stormwater runoff and noise levels are cited as key issues. 

Hammerstein presented two witnesses, Kristine Lewis, the proposed artistic director of the project, and landscape engineer L. Scott Mill. He has two or three more witnesses to go; opposing council cross-examined them, but did not get to present their own witnesses. The next hearing date is slated for March 26.  

At Highland Farm, Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to "The Sound of Music," his final collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers, "Oklahoma!" and "The King and I." He died there in 1960, shortly after the Broadway premiere of "The Sound of Music." 

Residents expressed concern that the area is not big enough to handle the 20-million-dollar construction. They were not swayed by Hammerstein's downsized plan Monday that removed parking spaces, reported the Daily Intelligencer

"It’s hard to watch cross examination of our witnesses because they're truly trying to beat the project up," Hammerstein told "It's our baby of the last four years. We believe in our plan. We just hope our message is getting through to the zoning board."

The location currently houses Highland Farm Bed and Breakfast that invites visitors to:

"Relax on the wrap-around porch where Oscar Hammerstein II wrote lyrics for the great American musical, Oklahoma! Stroll through the library where Mr. Hammerstein worked at his standing desk. Play chess in the grand living room where he entertained artists such as James Michener, Richard Rodgers, George Kaufman, Moss Hart, and Stephen Sondheim."

Support has been voiced from the Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County. Hammerstein remains undaunted. 

When the dog bites and the bee stings, there's always hope for the next go-round. 

None of the opposing party could be reached for comment.