Friday, January 16, 2009

Legendary Dallas real estate developer Trammell Crow dies

Trammell Crow, a poor bookkeeper's son who became the world's biggest commercial real estate developer, has died at age 94 after a long illness.

Mr. Crow died late Wednesday on his family farm in East Texas. No cause of death was given, but his family announced in 2002 that he had Alzheimer's disease.

During his career, Mr. Crow reshaped Dallas' landscape.

For more than 50 years after he built his first commercial building, he and his company developed six downtown skyscrapers, Dallas' largest hotel, the world's biggest wholesale trade center and millions of square feet of warehouse space.

"He was America's greatest developer," Mack Pogue, a longtime friend and former business partner, said Thursday. "Other than Erik Jonsson, I think Trammell is the most important guy that's come through this town based on the effect he has had on the city."

In its founder's lifetime, the Trammell Crow Co. built more than 100 million square feet of commercial buildings.

Mr. Crow was one of the first U.S. developers to expand his empire around the globe – office buildings in Germany, hotels in Hong Kong and luxury resorts in the South Pacific islands.

At home, he shifted the growth of downtown toward the northeast, with new skyscrapers along Bryan Street and Ross Avenue outside the old financial district. And he developed huge swaths of the Stemmons Freeway corridor.

It all started with a single-story warehouse he built on the banks of the Trinity River in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, Crow was Dallas' largest warehouse builder.

And in 1959, he constructed his first downtown building – the 13-story Hartford Building at Bryan and St. Paul streets.

By 1986, the Trammell Crow Co. had assets of more than $13 billion with 90 offices and more than 5,000 employees.

His company's skyscrapers – including Dallas' 50-story Trammell Crow Center and the 53-story Chase Tower – reshaped skylines in the 1980s in cities stretching from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta, San Francisco and San Diego.

"He would do things no one would do and get away with them 90 percent of the time," said Mr. Pogue, who's chief executive of Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. "Trammell had courage."

When Roger Staubach was just starting in real estate in 1970, Mr. Crow was already a legend. "Everybody aspired to be Trammell Crow. He was my Tom Landry off the field."


Odd jobs

Looking at Mr. Crow's humble beginnings, it would have seemed far-fetched to predict his success.

Fred Trammell Crow was the fifth of eight children who grew up in a rented one-bedroom house off Fitzhugh Street in East Dallas.

His father, Jefferson Crow, worked as a bookkeeper for Collett Munger – one of Dallas' early real estate developers who built the Munger Place subdivision.

Unable to attend college because of the Great Depression, Mr. Crow worked after high school at odd jobs, cleaning bricks, plucking chickens and delivering new cars from the Ford plant near downtown.

Civic leader Ruth Altshuler's older brother, former U.S. Rep. Jim Collins, was Mr. Crow's lifelong buddy. "Trammell was such a poor boy, didn't have a car or anything and was one of seven or eight children, so he'd walk over to our house every day, and Mother would drive him and Jim to Woodrow Wilson High School," recalled Altshuler, who was in grammar school at the time.

In 1933, Mr. Crow landed a "high-paying" job as a runner for Mercantile National Bank in Dallas, earning about $13 a week. He took night classes to become a teller and later studied accounting at Southern Methodist University.

In 1938, at 24, he was the youngest certified public accountant in Texas.

Accounting carried him through the war years – during World War II, he was auditor for the U.S. Navy and was promoted to the rank of commander.

Mr. Crow married Margaret Doggett in 1942 while stationed with the Navy in Orange, Texas, and the couple had six children.

Returning to Dallas after the war, he worked as a manager for a grain sales and storage company owned by his wife's family.

While working at Doggett Grain Co., Mr. Crow got his first practical experience in construction, building grain elevators in West Texas and leasing out space in the company's downtown office building to wholesalers.

That early success would ultimately lead to the construction of the huge Dallas Market Center complex, starting in the late 1950s in a partnership with developer John Stemmons.

Mr. Crow built his first warehouse in 1948 and leased it to Ray-O-Vac Battery Co.

He was one of the country's first developers to build "speculative" commercial buildings, properties that had no tenants.

That construction sometimes caused problems for the far-flung Texas builder.

In the mid-1970s, a national recession and overbuilding in many markets threatened the Crow Co. with bankruptcy. Mr. Crow and his partners had to scramble to cover more than $600 million in debts.

"This was a tough time, and he had to hunker down," daughter Lucy Crow Billingsley recalled several years ago. "But Dad was clearly focused on what he had to do."


'Crow Eats Crow'

Mr. Crow was forced to liquidate his ownership position in several landmark properties, including the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and the Allen Center in Houston.

In its October 1975 issue, Forbes magazine had a headline that read: "Crow Eats Crow."

But he was able to hang on to some of his more cherished assets, including Bryan Tower and the Dallas Market Center.

In the late 1980s, the Crow family again faced foreclosure of the 125-acre Market Center complex near downtown Dallas and the nearby Anatole Hotel when some high-interest loans went into default.

After months of negotiations with lenders, the property was recapitalized with cash and new loans.

Mr. Crow considered risk-taking part of the business.

"I once heard it said that the cat that is burned on an oven range will never touch a hot one again," he said in a 1980 interview. "True enough, but that cat won't go near cold ovens either. The same is true for business. Failures that transform a businessman into a super-cautious individual can cripple."

Ebby Halliday, the grand dame of Dallas residential real estate, called Mr. Crow "a giant among men" who "built an enduring and world-renowned real estate company with a family who carried it on. It was a privilege to be one of his many friends."

Mr. Crow was a confidant of business leaders, politicians and presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

"He had the ability to form relationships with people that were enduring," said J. McDonald Williams, who succeeded Mr. Crow as manager of day-to-day operations of the Trammell Crow Co. in 1977.

Mr. Williams began his association with Trammell Crow in 1970 when he was doing legal work for the company. Out of the blue, Mr. Crow sent him to Hong Kong to oversee development of a new hotel.

"He was willing to take a bet on me at 30 years old," Mr. Williams said. "That inspired me, just as it inspired so many other people in our company.

"That's a much greater legacy than just his buildings," he said. "Throughout the world, there are ex-Crow people – that's his legacy."


Family business

Two of Trammell Crow's children have gone on to become major players in the real estate industry.

Mr. Crow's son Harlan runs the family's growing investment business, Crow Holdings. His daughter Lucy is building Arts Plaza, a mixed-use project in downtown's arts district, and several large suburban developments.

Mr. Crow had a knack for hiring young, smart people, many with no experience in real estate, and teaching them the ropes.

"His willingness to give young people a chance and let them make mistakes was quite rare in American business," said Marc Myers, a former Crow Co. partner who joined the company fresh out of the military and now has his own company. "He has been a second father to many, many young men beginning their careers in real estate.

"It would be impossible to say too much about that man's influence on the real estate industry."

Most of Mr. Crow's top officers and partners shared his relentless drive.

"He was always driven by the next deal," said Billingsley. "He believes clearly that if he wills it strong enough, he can make it happen.

"He also wants to make sure that the other guy succeeds," she said.

Mr. Crow's interests included almost anything that caught his fancy – parapsychology to mathematics, economics to poetry. "I have the vocabulary of a used car salesman and the feelings of Shakespeare," Mr. Crow told a biographer.

In 1998, Mr. Crow and his wife founded the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art on Flora Street downtown.

He also founded the National Tree Trust and turned the family farm in East Texas into a tree nursery.

Mr. Crow's family acknowledged his struggle with Alzheimer's and made large donations to fight the disease.

"It is a devastating disease, and we hope that we can play a part in finding a cure for it as quickly as possible to help other individuals and their families," Mrs. Crow said when the family donated $1.1 million to UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Mr. Crow is survived by his wife of 66 years; six children, Robert Crow, Howard Crow, Harlan Crow, Trammell S. Crow, Lucy Billingsley and Stuart Crow; 16 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A public service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Highland Park United Methodist Church at 3300 Mockingbird Lane.

Staff writer Cheryl Hall contributed to this report.

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE CAREER OF TRAMMELL CROW
1914: Trammell Crow born in Dallas on June 10, the fifth of eight children

1932: Crow graduates from Woodrow Wilson High School

1938: Crow passes the C.P.A. examination at the age of 24, becoming the youngest person to do so at that time in Texas
• Crow accepts an entry-level auditor position with the accounting firm of Ernst & Ernst

1940: Crow accepts a position with Dallas' leading accounting firm, where he specializes in income tax work
• Crow enlists in the U.S. Navy and receives an officer's commission with the rank of Ensign

1942: Crow marries Margaret Doggett
• Having attained the rank of Commander, Crow leaves the Navy and returns to Dallas with his wife and family
• Crow builds his first commercial development, an 11,250 square foot warehouse in the Trinity Industrial District near downtown Dallas
• Partnering with John Stemmons, Dallas' legendary civic and political leader, Crow helps start a commercial building boom in the Trinity River Industrial District in Dallas, pioneering the construction of free-standing warehouse structures and through the early and mid-1950s constructs more than 50 warehouses with approximately 2 million square feet of space in the Trinity Industrial District
• Crow develops the Dallas Design District, the first building of its type to serve decorators and the design trade

1956: Crow develops the Dallas Furniture Mart, thereby helping to shift the focus of an entire industry from Chicago to Dallas
• Crow develops the 14-story Hartford Insurance Company Building, Crow's first office building in downtown Dallas
• Crow develops the Dallas Trade Mart, a 1 million square foot building featuring an atrium – the first in that kind of building in the nation

1962: Crow develops the four-building Stemmons Towers, constructed to stimulate high-rise activity near the Dallas Trade Mart

1963: Crow develops the Dallas Market Hall, one of the largest privately owned exhibition halls in the United States

1964: Crow develops the Dallas Apparel Mart, the largest building of its type in the world

1971: Forbes magazine names Crow the largest private landlord in the United States
• Crow is recognized in the Congressional Record as the largest developer in the United States, and he is honored as representing "the best of business leadership" in the United States
• Crow develops Embarcadero Center in San Francisco
• Crow develops the 40-story Bryan Tower, the first Dallas skyscraper built by a single developer

1974: Crow develops the World Trade Center in Dallas, instantly transforming Dallas into a center for international commerce

1975: Crow develops the Brussels Trade Mart, a facility that would eventually serve several industries including furniture, gifts, jewelry, apparel, toys, and sports equipment, among others

1976: Crow develops Peachtree Center in Atlanta, transforming the city's downtown area
• Crow develops the Anatole Hotel (now Hilton Anatole), a "Village Within A City," the 900-guest room hotel was designed and constructed to be one of the world's finest
• Crow develops the Diamond Shamrock Tower (now KPMG Centre) in Dallas
• Crow completes a 1.7 million square foot expansion of the World Trade Center in Dallas

1981: Crow founds Wyndham Hotel Company and begins developing first-class business hotels around the country, primarily at Trammell Crow Company office park developments

1982: Crow develops the San Jacinto Tower (now 2100 Ross Avenue) in Dallas

1983: Crow develops the "Tower" addition to the Anatole Hotel in Dallas, a 27-story structure that increased the total number of guest rooms at the hotel to 1,620

1984: Crow develops the Dallas Infomart, a 1 million square foot information industry showplace
• Crow develops the LTV Tower (now Trammell Crow Center) in Dallas

1985: Mr. and Mrs. Crow make a gift to Southern Methodist University to fund construction of the Trammell Crow Building for the business school

1986: Crow develops Texas Commerce Tower (now JP Morgan Chase Tower) in Dallas

1987: Fortune magazine names Crow to the U.S. Business Hall of Fame

1990: Crow co-founds the National Tree Trust, a non-profit organization that provides grants and works to unite civic and corporate institutions in support of local tree planting and education projects throughout the United States
• Crow develops Pioneer Plaza in Dallas

1996: Wyndham Hotel Company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, having grown to a company with 68 hotels and 11,400 employees since its founding 15 years earlier

1997: Trammell Crow Company completes its initial public offering of common stock and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange on November 25

1998: Mr. and Mrs. Crow fund the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, a permanent display of many of the items collected during their years of travel

SOURCE: Crow family By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News