Standing in his kitchen in one of the oldest houses in Hoboken, Jim Hans exhibits old Hoboken postcards, photos and newspaper clippings from his past – including articles about his work as one of Hoboken’s most important historians.
As Hans discusses Hoboken’s storied past, reciting dates and names as if he had a list written covertly on his hand, it becomes harder to imagine that he was already 30 when he moved to Hoboken in 1966.
Hans has lived his entire life spontaneously, simply doing the things that he enjoys.
“He’s invented his own little game, his own occupation, the occupation of being Jim Hans,” said Gene Turonis, a friend who has known Hans since for over 30 years.
An artist emerges
In 1959, Hans arrived in New York City, partially hitchhiking from Los Angeles. He had been around the country, checking out cities such as New Orleans, Boston and Chicago. He even spent time in Alaska while a cook in the Air Force, but no place compared to the Big Apple.
“Even when I was a kid, I always wanted to come to the big city,” Hans said. “Of course, L.A. is pretty big, but I just didn’t like it.”
Hans decided to attend art school. He studied portrait painting, but his love of collage drew him into an up-and-coming scene known as pop art. His reputation grew, eventually garnering attention from collectors such as Vincent Price and Robert Skull.
“He was headed for Warhol-esque fame,” said Ed McCormack, a long-time friend and former writer for Rolling Stone. “The only reason he’s not so well known is because he’s so eccentric. He has his own way of doing things.”
A love of Hoboken
Hans’ way of doing things led him to move to a square-mile town just across the Hudson.
“We just kind of stumbled on it,” Hans said. A couple had invited him and his future wife Beverly to the opening of an art gallery in Hoboken. They missed that opening, but came to the next opening a month later.
“We fell in love with Hoboken right away,” Beverly Hans said. “We came back the next day and found an apartment.”
Hans still painted and displayed his work at the Stryke gallery – since closed – in New York after he moved to Hoboken, but his interests soon shifted to other things.
“It happened gradually after we moved here. I just got busy with a lot of other things. The painting kept on, but just not as often,” Hans said. “Some years went by and I did another spurt of painting, but off and on. It’s that way with everything. I have so many interests that I’ll work on one frequently for a year or two, and then lay off for a while and concentrate more on other things.”
Jim and Beverly Hans were married in November of 1966, and the couple opened an antique shop on Newark Street called “The Hoboken Calendar Shop of Current Events.”
Hans and his wife sold the store after eight fairly successful years, but it was that little shop that helped acquaint Hans with Hoboken and its people. Hans’ soft character quickly won over the “born-and-raised,” and Hobokenites started to visit his store on a regular basis. The Hobokenites told Hans stories of old Hoboken, piquing his curiosity with each new tale.
“It was just so fascinating, so incredible,” Hans said. “The stuff that went on here is unbelievable.”
Hans soon found himself in the local library: “Here, between old iron stacks, among row upon row of old and ancient books, the whole mystique of Hoboken cried out to be fathomed… I was hooked,” he wrote in his new book, “100 Hoboken Firsts.”
He was so hooked, in fact, that he has spent the last 40 years studying Hoboken. Stemming from his love of visual art, his focus has been on the old illustrations and photos related to Hoboken.
“I have a couple thousand,” Hans said. “It’s such a photogenic city. I love the old advertisements too.”
In 1986, Hans decided to share all of the wonderful stuff he had found. On Nov. 7 of that year, he helped found the Hoboken Museum, which opened in its original location on two floors in City Hall. Though Hans was happy to share his work, it was also chance to teach people the importance of history.
“We learn from the past,” Hans said. “It should be up there out front with everything else to keep people up on the way things go, the way things happen.”
Hans remained the president of the museum until 1991.
“It got so big, and then everyone got involved,” he said. “It was a little too much for me. Plus, I wanted to get back to my other interests.”
Last September, Hans had his book published, “100 Hoboken Firsts.” It was his first large-scale project and a gift to the Hoboken community. In the future, Hans hopes to write another play, and perhaps put on an exhibit of how old illustrations portrayed the future.
Some poster-size Buck Rogers comics will be a part of the exhibit. Hans smiled when he talked about his idea, excited at the idea of showing people history through the eyes of the 11-year-old boy who loves comics.
“I can’t complain,” Hans said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
“100 Hoboken Firsts” is available at the Hoboken Museum. For more information, please visit: www.hobokenmuseum.org