HIGHLAND HOUSE - The Oscar Hammerstein Estate High Atop Montego Bay by Kaya Morgan
AIthough thousands of miles apart, Jamaica in the Caribbean and mythical "Bali Hai," situated somewhere in the South Pacific, have something in common the world-renowned lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. Named for his German-born grandfather, a famous theatrical manager in New York in the early twentieth century, Oscar Hammerstein II is best remembered for his collaborations with Richard Rodgers, including the Broadway musical phenomenon of 1949, "South Pacific."
In fact, Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to "South Pacific" from the terrace of Highland House, his fabulous Jamaican estate overlooking Montego Bay. More than just a second home and retreat from the traffic and noise of Hammerstein's native New York City, this 7,000-square-foot island home with its breathtaking views was a main source of inspiration for the musical. "This is what it's like, living on an island"... he wrote in "South Pacific," which was later made into the popular movie that was filmed on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii.
Highland House had roots in the theater even before Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein bought it as their vacation home in the mid-1950s. Designed by Jamaican architect Harold Simpson, it was built in the 1940s for English actress Gladys Cooper. The sprawling estate was first renovated after Oscar Hammerstein died in 1960, then sold in 1970 to its current owners, George and Ingrid Teichner from Bal Horbor, Florida who turned Highland House into their own private island escape. George, an investment banker, and Ingrid, a former model knew when they laid eyes on the home that it was their hearts desire and the added historic significance made it a very special place to be.
For the past seventeen years, as during the era of the Hammersteins' ownership, many a Broadway star, Hollywood celebrity, or show business executive has enjoyed the stunning natural beauty of this gracious home set on twenty-seven lush acres. Among the most spacious and glamorous homes anywhere in the Caribbean, Highland House is especially enchanting at night, with the lights of Montego Bay flickering in the distance. It is not difficult to imagine Hammerstein writing the words to "Some Enchanted Evening" here, along with the lyrics to the other songs in "South Pacific" that made so many fall in love with the idea of living on a far-off island.
An exquisitely landscaped compound of buildings surrounding a central courtyard and a forty-foot swimming pool, Highland House has six bedrooms under four separate roofs. Accessed by connecting pathways and all having adjoining porches or private decks, each bedroom has its own distinctive charming character.
The main building boasts the formal Great Room with a white-painted, open-beam ceiling and large pocket doors that open on two sides of the room. The interior courtyard doors open to the central pool deck, while the opening opposite reveals expansive bay and ocean views. The half-dozen other buildings in the compound, with their Canadian wood-shingled hipped roofs shaped into unusually high peaks and capped by finials, are reminiscent of Fijian bure architecture.
This main structure at Highland House has a wrought iron spiral staircase leading from the pool area to the rooftop sundeck. From this vantage point, guests can enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the estate's grounds, sparkling Montego Bay, and the Caribbean Sea beyond while relaxing in comfortable padded chaise lounges, or as they feast on lunch in the shade of a thatched umbrella. Downstairs, below the Great Room, is a recreation area and gym featuring a billiards table, exercise machines and free weights, a massage table, and a convenient mini-kitchen.
The Great Room itself is splendidly decorated with antiques, objets d'art, and several comfortable sofas and chairs all upholstered in a summery floral print that is carried through in the room's curtains. White marble flooring is cool underfoot. Scattered about the room are mahogany tables and chests that hold an interesting array of framed pictures, collectibles, antique lamps, and bright fresh flower arrangements.
Hanging from the white-painted, vaulted ceiling is a magnificent antique brass chandelier with candlestick-style lights and a white ceiling fan. Above the fireplace is a painting depicting the first Montego Bay baptisms of native islanders by the seventeenth century English missionaries who introduced Christianity to the island. Opposite the fireplace is a baroque gilded mirror (a gift to Dorothy Hammerstein from a friend) that is surrounded by a collection of framed pictures.
Also in the main building, on the north side and facing the bay, is a breezy sunroom wrapped by sliding glass doors on two sides. Here Sarah Churchill and Noel Coward played bridge with Dorothy Hammerstein on many a balmy Jamaican evening. And just outside on the covered terrace facing the pool is a cozy seating area with an armoire of Jamaican wood concealing surround-sound audio components.
Around the estate's buildings are five spacious terraces with antique brick and concrete decks, separated by lawns and tropical gardens. Brick also surrounds the forty-foot-long rectangular swimming pool, where more padded lounge chairs here offer poolside relaxation in the sun or shade.
Across the central pool area is another building sheltering the estate's gourmet kitchen, formal dining room, and casual al fresco dining terrace. Here, each morning, the usual bill-of-fare is pots of steaming Jamaican coffee and platters of fresh island fruit. Meals may be enjoyed indoors in the formal dining room, which seats ten under a white chandelier or poolside in a more casual setting on the covered terraces.
The master bedroom suite has a king size, four-poster cedar canopy bed, marble flooring, a spacious sitting area, ceiling fans, and sliding doors that lead to the private patio deck with panoramic views of the surrounding sea. The master bath has separate his-and-hers facilities with walk-in closets, and a huge linen-draped Roman tub. Connecting to the master suite is a smaller guest room that is ideal for children, with twin beds, en suite bath and walk-in closet.
The Green Room is a favorite guest suite offering a romantic king size, four-poster bed, marble flooring, a comfortable sitting area, dressing room, and en suite bath. Two sliding window walls in this suite open to a private, well-furnished terrace.
French doors opening to an expansive view of the lawns, woods, and sea as well as an adjacent covered terrace for morning coffee are amenities offered by the Peach Room. This guest room has a double bed, sitting area, and en suite bath. The Flowered Room, which features a wonderful collection of Jamaican and Haitian art, has twin beds, an en suite bath and walk-in closet, and an adjacent covered terrace in a garden setting.
In the new wing and totally private from the rest of the estate is a spacious bedroom suite with a queen size, four-poster elephant bamboo canopy bed, a sitting area, terra cotta tile floor, en suite bath, walk-in closet with a private deck surrounded by fragrant lush foliage.
The Hammerstein estate is located less than ten miles from the colorful village of Montego Bay and Sangster International Airport, and only minutes by car from beaches, championship golf and tennis facilities, restaurants, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, and craft markets. The fabulous beaches of bohemian Negril are about an hour away to the west while the bustling city of Ocho Rios and its world-famous attraction, Dunn's River Falls, are about an hour and a half drive to the east.
For those who don't live on an island, whether it be in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, owning an estate like this one is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rediscover what Oscar Hammerstein meant when he wrote those words: "This is what it's like, living on an island..." And in the case of Highland House in particular, it's a rare opportunity to experience an important moment in American theater history.
To rent this historic vacation villa, contact 301.229.4300 or www.jamaicavillas.com
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