Bennett Miller, a great friend to the Cedars neighborhood and Dallas Heritage Village died on May 18 at the age of 84.
Bennett’s published obituary headline referred to him as a “Developer Who Pioneered City’s Loft Housing Trend.” This is accurate enough, but hardly does justice to his many accomplishments and the lasting impact he had on all who knew him. I attended his funeral on Monday, heard from the many different people who knew him in their own way and, as the service progressed, enjoyed seeing how the different roles that Bennett played all fit neatly into one package. As sometimes happens at “good” funerals, I realized that there was much about him I had not known, and I went away wishing that I had spent more time with him.
I knew Bennett mainly through his association with Dallas Heritage Village and his work in the Cedars neighborhood. When I first arrived at DHV in 1995, he was the contractor who had moved the recently opened Sullivan House to the Village, and who had also moved the Carriage House, (now known as Nip and Tuck’s Stable), to our grounds. Over the years I got to know him in his other capacities as a real estate developer, neighborhood advocate, board member, and friend. I attended the openings of some of his projects like the American Beauty Mill, sat in neighborhood Crime Watch meetings with him, and went with him to meetings in City Hall where he advocated for neighborhood improvements. I learned to value his quiet determination, frank comments, and sly wit.
During the difficult financial times of the last decade, when other developers were reluctant to build in the Cedars neighborhood, Bennett persisted in designing and building affordably-priced single family dwellings. At one time or another he owned many properties in the Cedars, renovated or restored them, and then moved on to other properties. Because of his long time association with the Cedars, he was a walking encyclopedia of the neighborhood, and he could literally tell the “story” on every building and lot. When we started putting together our history of the Cedars neighborhood last year, talking with Bennett and recording his oral history was at the top of our priority list. The fruits of that labor are found in our Cedars Stories exhibit that is now in Browder Springs Hall, and at our opening reception in March we were able to honor and recognize his contributions.
Bennett was hobbled with M.S. for most of the past three decades, but it never slowed down his ambition. He continued to work and to hunt for new projects to take on. Whenever I spent time with him, I would almost always think later that he was the most ambitious 80+ year old that I had ever known. As recently as two months ago, I had lunch with him and he was again pushing an old idea that we had worked on back in the 1990s to make the Harwood Street bridge pedestrian friendly. He also talked about his desire to spend more time improving his art and writing skills, and his plans to take classes. Sometime during lunch he made a telling comment. Pointing to the brace that he used to help support his weak side when walking, he said that he was recently asked why he didn’t use a cane instead of the cumbersome metal brace. His answer: “Using the brace communicates that I have a disability, which I don’t mind acknowledging. Using a cane would communicate that I am old. And I don’t think of myself as old!”
Bennett never did get old. Even after completing two terms on our board of trustees he continued to work on our behalf and, as I heard at his funeral, on behalf of all of us in Dallas. He really was a great guy, and it was my privilege to know him. Gary N. Smith