As president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mr. Biddle, known as Jimmy, defended architectural landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the original exterior of the United States Capitol.
Years earlier, he was instrumental in raising the money to save Olana, the Moorish manor perched above the Hudson River that was built by the artist Frederic Edwin Church.
"We Americans must decide if we want to preserve what we have or if we just want to pave it over, high-rise it and factory it," he wrote in Travel Leisure magazine in 1972.
In his 12 years at the National Trust, the organization reached beyond the East Coast to designate historic sites as far away as California, and it began awarding grants and loans to support neighborhood preservation projects. When he left in 1980, the trust's membership had grown to 150,000, from 13,000.
The Andalusia — also known as the Nicholas Biddle Estate. 1790s Greek Revival style house located in Bensalem Township, Bucks County, eastern Pennsylvania. A Historic American Buildings Survey—HABS image by Jack Boucher (1976).
James Biddle was a leader in preserving America's homes and landscapes of historic value, including Andalusia, his family's 19th-century estate near Philadelphia. At once Jimmy had a black 'friend', a 'boy' when he came to Andalusia long ago to clean the pool, and met Jimmy, now a popular dinner guest, attentive host and retired dentist. "He simply knocked me out, I could hardly help myself" Jimmy said to Michael Henry Adams, as he listened in disbelief. He is survived by devoted friend Paul Bridgewater.
Mr. Biddle was previously a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There he expanded the American Wing's collection to include pieces from not only Colonial era but also from the 19th century on, acquiring elaborately carved furniture by John Henry Belter.
"He had a great sense for domestic spaces," said Morrison H. Heckscher, chairman of the American Wing. "He had a tremendous sense of design, and he was particularly noted for the way he could put together a room."
Mr. Biddle's expertise in historical furnishings was sought by first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson, by President Richard M. Nixon in assembling a team to coordinate the country's bicentennial celebration, and by committees in charge of renovating governors' mansions.
Enamored of the home, he often expressed his hope that some historical landmarks would remain occupied rather than simply becoming museums.
He embraced that ideal by restoring and preserving the 100-acre estate acquired in 1814 by his great-great-grandfather, the financier Nicholas Biddle. Andalusia, which sits along the Delaware River, remains a 19th-century tribute to ancient Greek architecture and a repository of antique French, English and American furniture and draperies. A national historic landmark, it is open to the public by appointment. The preservation of Andalusia, which Mr. Biddle inherited from his father, was one of his main interests. He opened a portion of it to the public in 1975. He lived in "The Cottage," a 20-room, eight-bedroom mansion near the so-called "Big House," which is now overseen by the Andalusia Foundation.
Mr. Biddle was born at Andalusia on July 8, 1929. He attended St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., and graduated from Princeton, where he studied art and archaeology. He served in an intelligence unit of the Army during the Korean War.
In 1955, he joined the Met as a curatorial assistant. He married Louisa DuPont Copeland (the daughter of DuPont president Lammont du Pont Copeland) in 1959. He became associate curator of the American Wing in 1961 and curator in 1963.
He left in 1967 to lead the National Trust until 1980, when he became a consultant to Sotheby Parke Bernet and chairman of the National Preservation Institute.
Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo described Mr. Biddle as a gentleman who was always "well-dressed, soft-spoken" and "very proper," a consensus builder who listened carefully, gave advice only when asked, yet could be "very direct in his answers and his opinions."
He is survived by two daughters, Letitia C. and Pamela C.; a son, James C.; seven grandchildren; and devoted friend Paul Bridgewater. His marriage to Louisa C. Duemling ended in divorce.
His wife, as well as many of their friends, several different sources stress, was well aware that he was 'different'. "Only his family, particularly his parents, retained complete and deliberate ignorance. That was how he inherited Andalusia, his family's remarkable estate." At once Jimmy had a black 'friend', a 'boy' when he came to Andalusia long ago to clean the pool, and met Jimmy, now a popular dinner guest, attentive host and retired dentist. "He simply knocked me out, I could hardly help myself" Jimmy said to Michael Henry Adams, as he listened in disbelief. He was seated beside the immense Gothic revival mahogany four-poster bed where Jimmy reposed in his high ceilinged-room in Andalusia's dower house, the imposingly large Gothic Cottage. The only black guest at a house party, he was stunned by this revelation, but not a bit surprised that neither Jimmy's marriage nor his then-controversial black lover had worked out.
The devoted friend in Jimmy's obituary, Paul Bridgewater, is born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1954, and has spent more than half of his life in the visual arts.
He was Co- Founder & Director of Hardart Gallery, Washington, DC in 1973 and continued to consult for the decade they existed. After moving to NY, he went on to open Bridgewater Gallery in 1984 and saw it through many transitions, as Bridgewater/Lustberg, Bridgewater/Lustberg & Blumenfeld, to its’ current revival as Bridgewater Fine Arts, today.
Over the last three decades he has been a Board Member and/or consultant to: The Museum of Temporary Art, Washington, DC , The YWCA Craft Students League, NYC , The Watershed Foundation for Ceramic Art, Saco, ME., Meta Museum, Blackmountain College, Hillsborough, NC and Artplace Studio Foundation, NYC.
In this time he has curated over 450 exhibitions including "Spark of Genius" for The General Electric Research and Development Center, Schenectady, NY and consulted on such exhibits as "Temples of the Yoruba", Photographs by Phyllis Galembo at The Schoenburg Center for Black Studies, Rockefeller Foundation, NYC and "Paint By Number" at The Smithsonian Institution, American History Museum, Wash., DC, "American Folk" for CBS Cable and The Robert Lynch Collection of North Carolina Folk Art, Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount, NC. He currently lives in the East Village of New York City.
Historic Houses of Philadelphia : A Tour of the Region's Museum Homes by Roger W. Moss (Author) & Tom Crane (Photographer)
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (May 1, 1998)
Amazon: Historic Houses of Philadelphia : A Tour of the Region's Museum Homes
With 160 color photographs that invite the reader to step over the threshold, Historic Houses of Philadelphia brings the region's most impressive museum homes to life. The only comprehensive readers' tour of the nation's richest array of historic residences open to the public, the book is complete with maps, touring information, and historical notes on fifty distinctive homes.
Entries on each home begin by listing name, date of construction, architect, and location, followed by a description placing the house in its architectural, historical, social, and cultural context. Readers learn about the style of the house, who built it and why, what major events were connected with the home, and what outstanding characteristics and furnishings make it remarkable.
A Barra Foundation Book
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