With a nickname like the Magic City, it’s understandable Birmingham would hold unusual and interesting things within its boundaries. One of the more interesting tidbits is the fact that at one time, Birmingham held the distinction of having the Heaviest Corner on Earth. In the early 1900s, four of the South’s tallest buildings were constructed at 20th Street and First Avenue in downtown Birmingham. In 1911, an article was published in Jemison Magazine that was titled “Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South.” This corner was later widely referred to as the ‘Heaviest Corner on Earth,’ which is what it’s still known as today.
A marker at the site reads: “At the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham was a small town of two and three-story buildings with a few church steeples punctuating the skyline. During the industrial boom from 1902 to 1912 which made Birmingham the largest city in the state, four large buildings were constructed at the intersection of the city’s main streets. The Woodward Building (now National Bank of Commerce), constructed in 1902 on the southwest corner, was the city’s first steel-frame skyscraper. A good example of the Chicago school style of architecture, it brought a dramatic change to the vertical scale of the existing Victorian city. In 1906 the 16-story Brown Marx Building rose on the northeast corner; in 1908 an addition more than doubled its size. Long the South’s largest office building, its principal tenant was United States Steel Corporation. The Empire Building (1909, northwest corner) and John A. Hand Building (1912, southeast corner), completed the ‘Heaviest Corner.’ Sheathed in marble, limestone, and terra cotta, they exemplify the more ornamental neoclassical style. Along the cornice of the Empire Building (now Colonial Bank), ‘E’s’ stand for the Empire Improvement Company, which built the tower. At the time, the height and mass of the buildings were so impressive that the intersection of First Avenue North and 20th Street was proclaimed the heaviest corner on earth. Today these buildings represent the most significant group of early skyscrapers in the city.”
All four office buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Woodward Building, which is now known as the National Bank of Commerce, was placed on the list in 1983. The remaining three office buildings were listed in 1985.
The Woodward Building was built in 1902 (photo circa 1904). This building stood 10 stories and is located at the southwest corner. It is now the National Bank of Commerce building.
The Brown Marx Building was built in 1906, stands 16 stories and is located on the northeast corner.
The Empire Building was constructed in 1909, stands 16 stories and is located on the northwest corner.
The John A. Hand Building (now the American Trust & Savings Building) was built in 1912, stands 21 stories and sits on the southeast corner.
At the time of the construction of these four buildings, the south had never seen such skyscrapers. The vast majority of commercial buildings in the south were between 2 and 6 stories at best so when these buildings were built, this was understandably a huge event. Nowadays, with the possible exception of the John A. Hand Building which stands at 21 stories, the other three buildings wouldn’t be considered skyscrapers. But back in the early 1900’s….they were impressive indeed.