At the turn of the 20th Century, the spark of the Magic City was one to behold. As Birmingham became an industrial metropolitan area, one particular corner of the city stood above the rest (pun intended): the intersection of 1st Ave. North and 20th Street. Between the years of 1902-1912 four large buildings were erected on that corner giving it the nickname “the heaviest corner on Earth”. While that may not be technically accurate, that corner is a testament to the significant impact it has made on Downtown Birmingham’s development. And guess what? The buildings’ still stand in all their glory today.
When built in 1909, it was the tallest building in Alabama towering 247 feet. The Empire was developed by Empire Improvement Company, and financed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company – also making the building one of the first development deals of its kind by an insurer. Currently, the Empire houses Elyton Hotel (fun fact: before being called Birmingham, the city was named Elyton, after an early entrepreneur). Elyton Hotel uplifts the historic roots of the Empire building into a modern luxury experience.
John Hand Building
Three years after the Empire Building made its grand-entrance, the John Hand Building surpassed it in height at 284 feet tall. (It held the title of tallest building in Alabama for one year before it, too, was surpassed.) In its long history, the building has primarily occupied banking institutions, but it is now the headquarters of Landing, an end-to-end platform and nationwide network of furnished apartments from Shipt founder, Bill Smith. Landing’s recent move to the John Hand Building adds to the growing Tech ecosystem of the city.
The Woodward Building was the first of its kind in Birmingham – a light brown façade, built in 1902 with elaborate metal construction at 132 feet tall. No building had been built quite this large in Birmingham’s history, and the building was so large for that many doubted its viability as an office space in the market. However, at its completion the Woodward Building office spaces were fully leased. Currently, the building is expecting Total Skin and Beauty occupants in the Fall.
Brown Marx Building
Although this building never held a title as the tallest on the “heaviest corner”, it was easily the most popular of the bunch. Built in1906, early architects were intentional in making the building as aesthetically pleasing as possible with lightly colored brick, arched ground-floor glass showing windows, and a marble interior. Over time, the Brown Marx declined in occupancy and lost much of its original décor. But in 2018, the building was purchased by the Ascent Hospitality who were responsible for the elaborate renovations of Brown Marx’s next door neighbor, Elyton Hotel.
Magic City Match is a program that transforms lives and opens doors for Black entrepreneurs and business owners. Led by REV Birmingham and powered by Prosper, this initiative aims to create opportunities for Black-owned businesses by matching them with brick-and-mortar spaces where they can thrive. After a successful pilot program in 2022, Magic City Match is back in action and ready to empower a new wave of entrepreneurs.
One of the most legendary and storied neighborhoods of Birmingham is Woodlawn. It is a community, anchored by one of the great public high schools of Birmingham, that has produced many citizens who contributed to the life of our city and has had an impact beyond the neighborhood itself. In a short post like this true justice cannot be done to the rich heritage and legacy of Woodlawn. However, we hope that this narrative brings together many of the diverse threads that make up the fabric of the community’s historic arc in a concise piece.
Woof, woof! I’ve been having an absolute blast visiting my sister in Downtown Birmingham. I can hardly wait to share all the details with you once you return from your vacation. In the meantime, I wanted to put paw to paper and tell you all about it, with the hope of convincing you that moving Downtown could be the most wonderful decision ever.