Empire Building

The Empire Building in downtown Birmingham, Alabama was constructed in 1909. After completion, the 16-story Classical Revival style skyscraper became the tallest building in Alabama. Birmingham View documented its construction monthly. Foundations were set by January 15, the first column of the top tier of structural steel was in place three months later. By May 15, the exterior terra cotta block had been mortared and anchored. By mid-June the building was almost finished. Teams of expert craftsmen, using limited machinery, hand carried the construction materials needed to build the tower. The exterior was covered in molded terra-cotta with pink granite columns showcasing the First Avenue entrance.

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Four years later, the American Trust and Savings building, across the street, took the “tallest building in Alabama” title. These two buildings along with the Brown-Marx Tower and the John Hand Building were proclaimed the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” Today, it is still the most prominent corner in downtown Birmingham. In 1917, a crowd of 35,000 looked on as the Human Fly scaled the building’s exterior. The publicity stunt received national press coverage.

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A wrought iron awning hangs over the entrance at 1928 1st Avenue North.

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Originally, a drug store occupied the ground floor, with offices and businesses on the upper floors. The Empire Building was sold in 1964. After a year long remodel, the building reopened with City National Bank occupying the ground floor space.

In 1982, the Empire Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Dusty iron pendant chandeliers adorn the ground floor lobby.
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Looking up through the center of the lobby staircase.
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The Empire Building is one of the most ornate historic buildings in Birmingham.
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A terra-cotta cornice wraps around the entire top of the Empire Building with a prominent E on display.
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Cracked and chipped, the lady in the moon overlooks Birmingham.

After sitting vacant for 3 years the Empire building was purchased by investors in 2012.

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The $27 million renovation revamped the 107 year-old building into a five-star boutique hotel. The Elyton Hotel opened in 2017 with 117 guest rooms, a restaurant, and rooftop bar.

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Abandoned Birmingham

Founded in 1871 after the Civil War, Birmingham rapidly grew as an industrial enterprise due to the abundance of the three raw materials used in making steel–iron ore, coal, and limestone. Birmingham’s rapid growth was due to the booming iron and steel industries giving it the nickname “Magic City” and “Pittsburgh of the South.” The city was named after Birmingham, England, as a nod to the major industrial powerhouse. The iron and steel industries began to dry up by the early 1970s, leaving behind dozens of abandoned structures that now dot the city’s landscape. In the last several years, Birmingham has begun to experience a rebirth. Money has been invested in reconstructing the historic downtown area into a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use district. In Abandoned Birmingham, photographer Leland Kent gives the reader an in-depth look at the forgotten buildings and factories throughout the city. This copy will be signed. Free Shipping

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14 Replies to “Empire Building”

  1. Gorgeous architecture. The craftsmanship in this building is amazing….they surely don’t make them like this anymore. Would love to see it after the renovation! By the way…love your site and your instagram! Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As skyscrapers go, this one’s a beauty, strange thin shape and the ornate top floors. The artistic details are striking. Though you do “abandoned” it’ll be interesting if you took pictures once it’s renovated 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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