BY TOM DIMINO
If Lambertville may be called ‘magical,’ it’s largely because Jim Hamilton always knew it was. Born in 1931, young Jim was the son of a local doctor in a city that was suffering. Once an industrial hub of the Delaware River, supporting 12 hospitals and 3 newspapers, Lambertville now languished.
Growing up, Jim would have seen only a specter of his city, as residents endured the hardships and shortages of the Great Depression. It was during his teenage years, painting scenery for the annual summer music circus, that Jim blossomed as an artist and an organizer.
Inspired by his five summers working for St. John Terrell, Jim studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and then Yale University, pursuing the fine arts. In conjunction with his studies, Jim worked for St. John Terrell’s until 1953, reaching the position of set designer.
After serving in the U.S military, Jim officially returned to sleepy Lambertville, renting out a former ice-skating rink. It was there, in 1956, that Jim and his mentor, Charlie Evans, founded their design studio, Design Associates.
At the helm of Design Associates, Jim won international fame—producing sets for Broadway plays like “Hair”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Godspell” and “Equus.” By the 1980s, his works had appeared in every major U.S city, London, and Paris; Jim even collaborated with celebrities like David Bowie, Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones, designing stages for their musical tours.
Amidst all of his artistic and entrepreneurial achievements, Jim remained aware of the state of the city that had given rise to his creativity and love of theater. In 1979, at the request of Lambertville Mayor Phil Pittore, Jim embarked on the re-design of the 3 intersections of Bridge St.
To spearhead this cultural and commercial Renaissance, Jim Hamilton and Company was founded in the early 1980s—giving local restaurants, residents and businesses the architectural design that Lambertville needed most. At the same time, Jim consulted with low-income homeowners, lending his aesthetic eye and expertise with renovations.
As David Morgan, Executive Director of the Delaware River Towns Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau has stated, “Our entire community is forever indebted to Jim for his unselfish dedication to the arts, businesses, schools, and residents of Lambertville and New Hope. He was a champion for our towns and their people. It is a fitting honor that The Jim Hamilton Shad Festival Scholarship will carry his name so future generations will remember both his contributions and the importance of giving back.”
Having already immortalized himself in the annals of Lambertville history, Jim would bring both his schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, and the artistry of the stage into his Coryell St. Hamilton’s Grill Room. With the assistance of his daughter Melissa, Jim popularized the concept of farm-to-table before it flourished across the country.
Today, something of Jim Hamilton is enshrined on every street and block of Lambertville. He knew the potential that the city held, long after it had faded. Working tirelessly with others, he restored the spirit of community and artistry that lingers with tourists and locals to this day.
A memorial, in honor of the Renaissance man that was James Hamilton, will be held at Rago’s Art & Auction House on March 18th, 2018 from 2 to 4 pm.