Mr. Crow, who began his legendary business career as the teller behind the window H-to-M at the Mercantile National Bank in Dallas and rose to become one of America’s largest real estate developers and landlords.
His projects, always done with partners, included the Dallas Market Center, the Peachtree Center in Atlanta and the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, and reached from Kansas City to Hong Kong to Brussels.
When Fortune magazine named him to the United States Business Hall of Fame in 1987, it called him “one of the most innovative developers in history.”
The traditional way of developing real estate was to use other people’s money to build a building, depreciate it, sell it and then deploy the profit to start the process all over again with another building. But Mr. Crow’s formula was to hold on.
“You can get rich selling real estate,” he often said, “but you can only get wealthy by owning it.”
William Bragg Ewald in his book “Trammel Crow: A Legacy of Real Estate Innovation” (2005) wrote that many landlords try to avoid tenants for fear they might ask for something, but that Mr. Crow aggressively pursued fixing tenants’ problems.
He signed customers to the shortest lease possible, saying this apparent sacrifice of long-term security allowed him to charge ever-higher rents.
Undoubtedly his most important innovation, which he pioneered in 1948 on his first project, a Dallas warehouse, was to build buildings for which he had no tenants lined up in advance. He became, in his own words, “a confirmed gambler, a speculative builder.”
Trammell Crow, whose unusual first name was taken from a family surname, was born in Dallas on June 10, 1914. At 10, he began taking paying odd jobs until his father, a bookkeeper, forbade it. As the Depression deepened, the family needed the young man’s income, from jobs like plucking chickens and unloading boxcars.
After graduating from high school in 1932, he worked as a bank teller and studied accounting at night. He passed his C.P.A. exam in 1938 and joined Ernst & Ernst as an auditor. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to Dallas in 1946.
Rayovac, the battery maker, leased space in a warehouse. When it decided to move to larger quarters, Mr. Crow put together his first real estate deal. He got loans from an insurance company and a local bank to build a warehouse on land he had bought from Mr. Stemmons. He leased half the building to Rayovac and soon found a renter for the rest.
His business strategy was set. Mr. Crow and partners went on to build 50 warehouses in Dallas — and much else.
There were nonetheless plenty of the ups and downs that characterize the industry. In the 1970s, high interest rates, mounting debt and a glut of office space combined to hurt the company so badly that it sold off many properties. But it never stopped building new projects. By the 1980s, it claimed to be the biggest real estate developer in the country.
Mr. Crow stepped down as chief executive in 1977 but remained involved in deals.