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.
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’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