The Original Oscar Hammerstein (1847-1919)
Oscar Hammerstein came to America penniless in 1864 but carried with him two unseen assets: an education in music at the Music Conservatory of Berlin and a love of opera. He was an inventor, writer, editor, publisher, composer, speculator, designer, builder, promoter and showman.
Hammerstein was born in Stettin, capital of the province of Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia, to German parents. Producer and impresario, he opened the Harlem Opera House on 125th Street in New York in 1889, a second theater (The Columbus Theatre) in 1890 and the first Manhattan Opera House in 1893 on 34th Street.
His fourth venue was the Olympia Theatre on Longacre Square; nine years later the area was renamed “Times Square” to commemorate the completion of the New York Times building. Through Hammerstein’s efforts, Times Square became a thriving theater district.
At one time, he had contracts with opera greats like Nellie Melba, Luisa Tetrazzini, Emma Calve, Alessandro Bonci, Charles Dalmores, Maurice Renaud, Mario Sammarco and Mary Garden. Unfortunately, his long running feud with the Metropolitan Opera Association did not end well for him; and he was forced into the production of operettas. His major contribution in this field was the commissioning of Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta (1910.35), starring the opera diva Emma Trentini.
Oscar had two sons, Arthur and Willie. Willie’s son was Oscar Hammerstein II.