James Boyd ‘Jim’ Pettit Jr., a retired architect and watercolor painter, dies

James Boyd “Jim” Pettit Jr., a retired architect and watercolor painter, died of acute respiratory failure Nov. 16 at the National Jewish Health/St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. He was 77 and lived in Original Northwood.

Born in Hopewell, Virginia, and raised in Arizona, he was the son of James Boyd Pettit Sr., an Air Force jet mechanic, and Shirley Lee Pettit, a homemaker.


After graduating from Hopewell High School, he earned a degree at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. He soon thereafter moved to Baltimore to begin work.

He worked in space planning, retail design, historic renovations, restorations and environmental graphics.


He designed at various firms — RTKL Associates, Ayers Saint Gross, Design Bank, DeLeo Inc. and Brown & Craig. From 1999 until his 2012 retirement, he was at Penza Bailey Architects.

“Jim was a heartfelt good person who gave back to the community and gave to others,” said Dan Bailey, a colleague. “He was a talented architect and artist and a dedicated bicyclist.”

After his first marriage ended in divorce, he raised his two daughters as a single father.

“He loved Baltimore with its many beautiful historic buildings and was proud of his work here,” said his wife, Dr. Jane Halpern.

They met at a newcomers party in Original Northwood. She is a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher.

He worked in Baltimore for more than 40 years. His designs include a solar-powered fire station, the Harriet Tubman Elementary School in West Baltimore, the restoration of the U.S. Custom House, Scarlett Place and the old International Culinary Arts Institute.

James Boyd “Jim” Pettit Jr. helped increase accessibility to buildings at the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.

He also created a bridge design at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School in Bolton Hill.

Most recently he worked on increasing accessibility to buildings at the Hopkins Homewood campus and the Washington Hospital Center.


Active in the American Institute of Architects, he wrote for its student publications and pushed the anti-Vietnam War cause and environmental issues. He later pressed for architectural schools to increase minority admissions.

Mr. Pettit served on the board of the Original Northwood Association, Baltimore Architectural Foundation and was vice president of the board of the Northeast Development Alliance.

He was a self-taught watercolor artist and focused on landscapes and village scenes in Europe, Central America and New Mexico.

“His paintings were so realistic that viewers would ask, ‘Is this really a painting or a photograph?’” his wife said.

Walter Schamu, a fellow architect, said: “Jim’s paintings were marvelously precise. He had an eye for the natural landscape.”

After his retirement in 2012, he taught architectural drawing and design for three years at the Gilman School.


“He was a wonderful teacher and mentor. He held his students to high standards and I think they appreciated that,” said Karl Connolly, Gilman’s upper school art department chair. “He valued hand drawing and a tactile approach to architectural drawing. He had a love of precision and accuracy.”

Said Richard A. Ayers, a friend and chair of Ayers Saint Gross: “He was a talented artist and a complete architect. He had exquisite penmanship. He had a real skill set. Jim had a gift for graphics and anything that dealt with the visual arts.”

Mr. Pettit volunteered as a mentor to thesis-level students at Morgan State University’s graduate school of architecture, where he had taught earlier in his career.

“He just had a beautiful hand. His drawings were works of art,” said Jeff Penza, a fellow architect. “He was also an unbelievable mentor and spent time with the younger staff members.”

Mr. Pettit was a graphic designer and created a poster for the Baltimore Opera Company’s production of “Inês de Castro.” He also created signage for retail stores and restaurants.

He was among the artists commissioned to design Little Free Libraries that were auctioned off to raise money for literacy programs at the Village Learning Place in Charles Village.


Mr. Pettit read widely and enjoyed straight-ahead jazz and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts. He played washtub bass in a bluegrass band.

“His flute always went on backpacking trips,” his wife said. “He would open the windows in the house and play so his daughters could hear him from down the street.”

His wife said he was an excellent cook.

“Paella being a specialty,” she said. “He also loved his mother’s down-home Southern dishes, such as greens with bacon and fried chicken.”

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He was a serious runner and cyclist, and explored the back roads of Baltimore County on his bike. He ran the Boston Marathon and hiked and backpacked in the Shenandoah Valley.

He was a traveler who loved immersing himself in other cultures, walking the streets and admiring the buildings, which he then painted.


“Jim discovered the dramatic skies, sunsets, and mountains of Northern New Mexico over 40 years ago, where he would cycle in the Jemez Mountains with a friend from Los Alamos,” his wife said.

He and his wife bought a home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they spent part of the year.

He often hiked alongside his rescue Australian cattle dog, Nizhoni.

Survivors include his wife of more than 27 years, Jane Halpern; two daughters, Cynthia Trostle of Aberdeen and Caryn Rader of Lodi, Wisconsin; a brother, Thomas Pettit of Hampton, Virginia; a sister, Nancy Tower of Brenham, Texas; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in late March.