Yesterday, while in Birmingham for a meeting, I was walking to lunch and came upon a place I know well: The Heaviest Corner on Earth. I love the way the corner is marked, which was added since I wrote about the site in my book “Forgotten Tales of Alabama.” Below is an excerpt from the book.
Birmingham was a fledgling city when the elements for making iron — iron ore, coke and limestone — were discovered within a small radius. An industrial boom began as furnaces and other industries were built. Birmingham earned its nickname the Magic City because of its incredible rate of growth at the turn of the century.
This growth led to a downtown boom that would make Birmingham Alabama’s largest city and create the claim of the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” The area, which is now marked with a plaque, includes four large buildings at the intersection of the city’s main streets, First Avenue North and Twentieth Street. They are: the 10-story Woodward building (now National Bank of Commerce) constructed in 1902 on the southwest corner; the 16-story Brown Marx building on the northeast corner; the 16-story Empire building constructed in 1909 on the northwest corner; and the 21-story John A. Hand building constructed in 1912 on the southeast corner.
When construction of the Hand building was announced in Jemison Magazine in a January 1911, the article had the headline: “Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South.” This headline was used to promote the area and soon was exaggerated to the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” The Woodward building was Birmingham’s first steel-frame skyscraper and was built in the Chicago style of architecture. In 1908, an addition to the Brown Marx building more than doubled its size. For many years, it remained the South’s largest office building and had as its main tenant United States Steel Corporation. A series of E’s along the cornice of the Empire building, which now houses Colonial Bank, stood for the Empire Improvement Company, which built the tower.
The Hand building housed the American Trust and Savings Bank and later became the First National-John A. Hand building. The buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s. A marker was erected on May 23, 1985, by the Birmingham Historical Society and Operation New Birmingham.