Who Was Jim Hamilton

Jim Hamilton: Goodbye to the Porkyard Spirit
By Robert Beck

The story of Jim Hamilton’s life requires a much longer consideration than this. In a region of exceptional people he was a Hall of Famer, living his life to the edges, grasping every shred, a man of unflagging zest. 

Jim’s accomplishments included designing and building A-list Broadway and rock-concert sets (right in Lambertville), introducing the original Mustang at the Worlds Fair for Ford, creating wonderfully atmospheric architectural spaces and events around the country, establishing a celebrated restaurant, and much more.

Jim in his kitchen

The Grill Room, the Boat House, the Swan, and many private homes speak the Hamilton language. The mark he left on Lambertville and New Hope is immense.

Jim fed us. He helped us raise money. He showed us how to throw a party, how to work together, and how to be a friend. He supported it all. Fisherman’s Mark, New Hope Arts, The Ball Park – more than I can list. Dinner for 1,000 in the street to benefit the Fire Department? Okay. A gala event for the schools? Sure. Towards the end he could only sit on a stool or make a brief appearance, but it still gave the occasion a spotlight.

Jim lived a life of risks – a creative life propelled by his love for making fabulous things happen. He was theatrical, stylish, classy, and driven. When Jim called asking you to get involved you climbed on the rocket, reservations or not. It wasn’t always a smooth ride but you could count on an adventure and some excellent food. He might wander out ahead of the rest of the squad and things could get complicated but there you were: part of a grand undertaking and having a blast. He pulled everyone with him in his dreams for better things. There was a yin to the Hamilton yang. Tragedies, dysfunction, and slap-your-forehead stories that showed him no different or better than the rest of us at being human. And just like any artist not all his ideas worked or got realized. But if there was something in the water that accounted for the unconventional creativity that thrived in this area, Jim bathed in it. He was quoted as saying, “Mediterranean cooking is a marriage of respect, integrity, enthusiasm and shear joy,” which sounds like he was talking about more than food. It sort of all ran together. Jim lived his entire life over-capacity and was still engaged at the end despite staggering heath issues; finally crumpling, his body used up, nothing left. It deserves a book.

Jim Hamilton at New Hope Arts

Jim’s passing warrants a long pause and reflection. It comes at a time when Lambertville and New Hope are reconfiguring at a dizzying pace, closing the door on a time, a life, and a way. Our towns have become hot property. We can look back to the seventies when Lambertville was a real mess and see Jim helping pave the road back to vitality in his hometown, creating plans for the business district, co-founding the Shad Fest, and helping the locals with solutions for rehabilitating their houses. He was an advocate for the kind of progress and enterprise that worked for everybody, and he backed it up with hard work. Jim understood community and believed there was an “us.” He gave so much.

There are many photos of Jim Hamilton but the perfect one has him in his kitchen-whites and bandana giving a crêpe the two-handed flip from a large, well-used pan. He’s got his eye on the delicate pancake as it executes a lazy back-flip a good three feet in the air, and a look on his face of command and enjoyment. A pinch of flair, a dash of circus. Every bit the Ringmaster. And so he was.

Word Portrait of Jim Hamilton by Robert Beck
Painting of Hamilton’s Grill by Robert Beck
Photo of Jim Hamilton by Jack Rosen
Videos courtesy of Danny Popkin and James Mastrich

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