Crow, Fred Trammell (1914–2009)


By: Spenser R. Rapone

Type: Biography

Published: March 16, 2022

Updated: March 31, 2022


Fred Trammell Crow, businessman, real estate developer, and landlord, son of Jefferson Brim Crow and Mary (Simonton) Crow, was born in Dallas, Texas, on June 10, 1914. Better known by his middle name Trammell (derived from the surname of one his relatives), he was one of the leading figures in real estate development, specifically speculation, in the mid-twentieth century United States. The fifth of eight children, Crow grew up in a deeply religious environment, as both of his parents were devout Presbyterians. The Crows lived a rather impoverished lifestyle and resided in a one-bedroom rental house during his early childhood. His father worked as a bookkeeper for the Collett Munger real estate firm, and young Trammell, if not being as devoutly religious as his father, shared his love of poetry and developed a strong work ethic early in life. He attended Fannin Grade School, excelled in math, and was a Boy Scout. Upon graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1932, Crow failed to get into college because of financial circumstances but later credited this failure as motivation to work harder and cultivate his own innovation and self-reliance. He worked a number of jobs and also took classes in banking at the American Institute of Banking and accounting courses at Southern Methodist University before becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) at the age of twenty-four in 1938. He subsequently went to work as an auditor for the firm of Ernst & Ernst.

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and with the United States’s subsequent entry in 1941, Crow acquired an officer’s commission in the U. S. Navy due to his credentials as a CPA. In the course of his service he met and eventually wed Margaret Doggett on August 15, 1942, in a ceremony at Highland Park Methodist Church. His wife’s family ran the Dallas-based Doggett Grain Company. Due to his work experience, Crow carried out his duties as a naval officer within the continental United States, and he served in the capacity as a finance officer until finishing his military service in 1946. He was discharged with the rank of commander.

Crow worked for his father-in-law’s business for a couple of years before deciding to enter into real estate development as his career in 1948, when he oversaw the construction of his first warehouse adjacent to downtown Dallas. Warehouses (many in Dallas’s Trinity Industrial District) built on speculation became the primary driver of Crow’s fortune over the years. The Dallas Market Center in 1957 was one of his early major achievements. He then expanded into the construction of office buildings, with the completion of the Hartford Insurance Company Building in downtown Dallas in 1959. He constructed the four Stemmons Towers in Dallas in the early 1960s, and his Trammell Crow Company (TCC) transformed the Dallas skyline throughout the years with such building projects as the forty-story Bryan Tower (1971), World Trade Center (1974), Diamond Shamrock Tower (1976), and the fifty-story Trammell Crow Center and fifty-three-story Texas Commerce Tower (present-day Chase Tower) in the 1980s.

While Crow grew up poor, in spite of his “rags to riches” story, his biographer, historian Robert Sobel, noted that much of Crow’s success also can be tied to the socioeconomic and political environment of mid-twentieth century Dallas. Crow, a risk-taker and pioneer in  speculative building, found success due to the absence of regulation as well as the staunch anti-union sentiment and business-friendly orientation of the city. At the height of his real estate empire, Crow had a stake in approximately 8,000 properties across the United States. His business dealings earned him the moniker by Forbes magazine of “the largest private landlord in the United States” in 1971. That same year he was also honored in the Congressional Record as the largest developer in the nation. Crow also oversaw successful projects at the national level, such as the construction of the Embarcadero Center in San Fancisco in 1971, the Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta in 1976, as well as the founding of the Wyndham Hotel Company in 1981. International business included construction projects in Germany, Hong Kong, and the South Pacific.

By the end of the 1970s, Crow found himself less directly involved in business activity, but the Trammell Crow Company continued operations after Crow left his position as chief executive officer in 1977. By 1986 TCC had more than 5,000 employees, ninety offices, and $13 billion in assets. The company was forced to adapt to changing economic and social climate in the 1990s, and by 1997 TCC went public. In 2006 the C.B. Richard Ellis Group, Inc., acquired the company for $1.8 billion.

Despite his wealth, Crow tended to avoid the spectacle of celebrity throughout his life. His biographer Sobel characterized him as “enigmatic” and compared Crow to the title character of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941). An active member of and donor to the Republican party, Crow was a friend of President Gerald Ford and played a significant part in securing Dallas for the 1984 Republican National Convention. Crow lived an active social life and regularly associated with prominent political and financial members of American society. Fortune magazine inducted him into the U. S. Business Hall of Fame in 1987, and in 1988 he was honored with the Horatio Alger Award. In 1989 he was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame. Deeply proud of his Bohemian Grove membership, Crow took inspiration from this gathering to host a similar annual event on his Texas farm. He was a regular attendant at the American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum in Vail, Colorado, due to his close ties to President Ford. Crow also suggested the creation of the National Tree Trust in 1990 and served as chairman of the Tree Trust board. His family farm included a tree nursery. While real estate and the pursuit of profit remained Crow’s primary focus, many authors point to his intellectual curiosity; his biographer Sobel noted that Crow was “most proud” of his three honorary doctorates.

The Crow family was not without controversy during Trammell’s lifetime. In 1996 Crow’s son-in-law, Henry Billingsley, pled guilty to aiding the unlawful entry of Libyan finance minister Muhammad al-Bukhari from Mexico into Texas in 1992. Billingsley, who met Bukhari alongside Crow, had hoped to convince the George H. W. Bush administration to ease the United Nations-imposed sanctions against Libya—levied in the wake of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing—in order to potentially secure future financial aspirations. Billingsley received the sentence of six months in a halfway house, three years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. Crow himself never faced any charges and did not comment on the situation when it occurred in the mid-1990s.

 

Crow and his wife engaged in various philanthropic activities in the Dallas area. In 1987 they made a large donation to Southern Methodist University to construct the Trammell Crow Building, part of the Cox School of Business Complex. In 1998 they established the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.

After suffering from Alzheimer’s disease from 2002 onward, Trammell Crow died on his farm near Tyler, Texas, on January 14, 2009. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. He and his wife Margaret had five sons and a daughter— Robert, Howard, Harlan, Trammell S., Stuart, and Lucy (Crow) Billingsley.

Austin American-Statesman, January 16, 2009. Dallas Morning News, January 16, 2009. Dallas Observer, December 22, 1994. Chandler Davidson, Race and Class in Texas Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). William Bragg Ewald, Jr., Trammell Crow: A Legacy of Real Esate Business Innovation (Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 2005). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 10, 1998; January 16, 2009. McAllen Monitor, September 19, 1996. New York Newsday, January 15, 2009. New York Times, January 15, 2009. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George Bush, Book 1 (Washington: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 1990). Robert Sobel, Trammell Crow, Master Builder: The Story of America’s Largest Real Estate Empire (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989). Washington Post, July 10, 1996.

Categories:
  • Business
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Visual Arts
  • Collectors and Patrons
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Spenser R. Rapone, “Crow, Fred Trammell,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/crow-fred-trammell.

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March 16, 2022
March 31, 2022

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