VOL. 124 | NO. 11 | Friday, January 16, 2009
Real Estate Pioneer Trammell Crow Dies at 94
By LINDA STEWART BALL | Associated Press Writer
DALLAS (AP) - Trammell Crow, a one-time accountant with no real estate experience who built one of the largest real estate development companies in the nation, has died. He was 94.
Spokeswoman Cynthia Pharr Lee said Thursday that Crow died Wednesday at a family farm near Tyler in East Texas. The cause of death wasn't immediately released. In 2002, Crow's wife disclosed that the legendary developer suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Trammell Crow Co. was sold in 2006 for $1.8 billion to CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., which was interested in Trammell Crow's list of blue chip corporate clients, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Bank of America. Analysts said big corporations liked doing business with Trammell Crow because the firm handled both property management and development of new projects.
Crow grew up poor in Dallas. After serving as an ensign in the Navy, assigned to finance duties, Crow returned to Dallas after World War II and built his first building, a warehouse near downtown, in 1948.
In the 1950s, Crow introduced Dallas to the idea of building on speculation – without a tenant lined up in advance. He soon became a major industrial developer in the city, building the huge Dallas Market Center in 1957 and his first downtown office building two years later.
In those days, Crow conducted business on a handshake basis. He relied on hundreds of young leasing agents to fill the buildings, and those who proved themselves talented and hardworking became partners.
This approach marked the evolution of Crow's then-unusual methods of working in the real estate industry. As he brought in new people to work on residential and commercial projects, he gave them an equity stake in the business.
Crow explained that he believed the projects would thrive if the people managing them were partners rather than employees. He said people worked harder when they had a stake in the company.
Biographer Robert Sobel said Crow had another reason for using the partnership strategy: By offering equity instead of pay, he conserved his capital for putting up buildings.
Crow's agents did more than $15 billion in development and eventually gave him an interest in 8,000 properties, ranging from houses to hospitals, hotels and office buildings.
Crow affected something of an aw-shucks manner in describing his success.
"I just happened to come along in the right city at the right time," he once told The Washington Post.
By the 1960s, the changing economics of the real estate industry forced Crow to change his loose network of partners into a formal, centralized corporate structure. The company bearing his name expanded beyond Texas, breaking ground on the Embarcadero Center office project in San Francisco in 1968.
The real estate industry was hit hard by recession in the mid-1970s. Crow's company was forced to renegotiate billions of dollars of debt and restructured from a complicated partnership to corporate ownership, with the company taking back many assets as partners left.
Crow stepped down as chief executive in 1977.
The company continued to expand, however, and by the 1980s it claimed to be the largest real estate developer in the country. The company went public in 1997, and its shares began to trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
Crow helped secure Dallas' winning bid to host the 1984 Republican convention.
He and his wife, Margaret, supported arts groups and beautification projects in Dallas and beyond. They collected Asian art and founded the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art in downtown Dallas.
The family has donated $1.1 million for research into Alzheimer's disease at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
AP Business Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.
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