From Staff Reports
Corsicana Daily Sun
Bennett I. Miller, pioneer of loft housing movement in Dallas, dies at 84
By Steve Brown, Dallas Morning News, and Texas Jewish Post (re-printed with permission)
Bennett Miller never considered himself a developer. Instead he viewed his job as a community builder.
Miller, who pioneered Dallas’ loft housing movement starting in the early 1980s, created hundreds of urban homes by finding new uses for old commercial buildings.
Miller, 84, died May 18, 2013, after a heart attack.
“He loved what he was doing and was not in it for the money,” said Miller’s wife, Bette Miller. “He never got rich. He just wanted to provide good housing.”
Miller, a New Yorker, moved to Texas in the early ’50s to work in his family’s hat manufacturing business, Texas Miller/Adam Hat Company in Corsicana, Texas. From 1954–1964 Miller worked in production management overseeing 1,000 employees producing military and civilian headwear. He met his wife Bette while working in Corsicana. From 1965–1967 he worked for Miller Brothers Industries in production management overseeing 200-plus employees in two plants in Missouri and South Carolina.
A graduate of Horace Mann Lincoln High School in NYC, earned a BA from Syracuse University and was a Korean War Army veteran, Miller and his young family relocated to Dallas in 1959.
It was while managing factories across the Deep South that Miller first took an interest in poverty and affordable housing.
“He was a frustrated garment manufacturer and wanted to get out of the family business,” Bette Miller said.
He left the hat and clothing manufacturing industry to work in community development. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he was director of the local War on Poverty's employment programs and then became the Dallas County Community Action Agency's executive director.
When Miller grew weary of the politics involved in those agencies, he was hired at Southern Methodist University in the urban studies department.
But in 1982, he quit his job at SMU and began converting commercial buildings south of downtown Dallas into urban housing.
“I build homes in places most people wouldn’t want to live,” Miller joked.
He transformed the old American Beauty Mill flour plant south of downtown into apartments with dramatic views of the skyline. And next door to Victory Park, Miller turned a crumbling fuel depot that once housed the Magnolia Petroleum Co. into loft apartments. Most of the buildings Miller saved would be considered far from landmarks.
“We are absolutely better for his having saved these buildings,” longtime Texas preservationist Libby Willis said. “Ultimately, the kinds of projects he did, contributed to saving the cultural richness of Dallas — which requires all kinds of buildings, humble and grand. His projects were unique, and Dallas is better for Bennett Miller’s having made them happen.”
Along with remodeling buildings, Miller built affordable townhomes in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood and in Oak Cliff. He did all of this while battling multiple sclerosis for more than four decades, which made it hard for him to climb around building sites.
“Coping with physical disability made me even more determined to fight and not surrender to adversity,” Miller once wrote.
• Corsicana, Texas Chamber of Commerce, board member (1966)
• Commissioner on the Dallas Housing Authority
• Founder & VP of Cedar’s Development Assoc. and Cedars Neighbors Assoc.
• Board member Dallas Heritage Village (Old City Park)
• Board member Preservation Dallas
• Vice Chair, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance
• Member of Mayor’s Commission on Homeless
Bennett Miller was predeceased by his parents David and Elsie Miller of NYC and his grandson Samuel Miller. In addition to his wife Bette Wolens Miller of Dallas, he is survived by his three children - Kerry Miller (Leslie) of Ojai, CA, Jennifer Hillman (Tom) of St. Louis, MO and Elka Kopp (Alex) of Newton, MA. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Amber, Adrienne, Alyssa, Max, Ben, Natalie, Sam, Noah, Frank, Tony, Nick, Zack and Forest, his great grandchildren, his brother Martin Miller (Madge) of NYC and sister Betsy Landis (Donald) of White Plains, NY and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Burial and a Memorial Service at Temple Shalom was held on Monday, May 20, 2013, in Dallas, Texas, officiated by Rabbi Andrew Paley. The family requests donations be made to Dallas Heritage Village, 1515 S. Harwood, Dallas, TX 75215 or the charity of your choice.