Heaviest Corner on Earth
In 1911 this intersection was called "the heaviest corner in the South," and outlandish claim that only grew wilder over the years.
The Heaviest Corner on Earth is located at the heart of downtown Birmingham, where 1st Avenue North intersects 20th Street North. It is surrounded by a number of imposing buildings. Whether this corner actually weighs more than any other is hard to verify (maybe impossible), but there’s an interesting history as to how the intersection came by its nickname.
In 1911, Jemison Magazine published an article entitled “Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South,” based on the completion of the four buildings surrounding the intersection of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North: the Empire Building (now the Elyton Hotel), the metal-corniced Woodward Building, the arched-windowed Brown Marx Tower, and the John A. Hand Building. At the time, these buildings were some of the tallest in the American South.
The 10-story Woodward Building was completed in 1902, recognized as Birmingham’s first Chicago-style building due to the use of steel frames in the architectural design. William Woodward, former owner of the Woodward Iron Company, sold the business in order to build the 132-foot tower designed by architect William Weston.
In 1906, the Brown-Marx building was built at the site of the old National Bank in Birmingham. The tower became one of the most popular buildings in the Magic City, as its principal tenant was the United States Steel Corporation. As a result of the Brown-Marx’s success, William Woodward purchased the building in 1908 and doubled its size.
Construction of the 247-foot Empire Building was completed in 1909 and was given the title of the tallest building in Alabama. With a Neoclassical design, this building was home to multiple offices and businesses, as well as a local drug store. The Empire Building has undergone many changes over the last 50 years. In 1965, it housed the City National Bank, but it was named the Colonial Bank in 1981. By 2017, the building was the new home of the Elyton Hotel.
By 1912, the John Hand Building had stolen the claim to the state’s tallest building. Originally named the American Trust and Savings Bank Building, its completion established the intersection of 1st Avenue North and 20th Street North as the “Heaviest Corner on Earth” because of the heights and masses of the four surrounding buildings. In 1985, the Birmingham Historical Society installed a plaque on the sidewalk outside the Empire Building identifying the corner. In that same year, the group of four buildings was recognized as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.
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