The Empire Building in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, was constructed in 1909. After completion, the sixteen-story Classical Revival skyscraper became the tallest building in Alabama. A local paper called 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 of the building is covered in a molded terra-cotta with pink granite columns showcasing the First Avenue entrance.
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.
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. After sitting vacant for three years the Empire building was purchased by investors in 2012. The $27 million renovation revamped the 107 year-old building into a five-star boutique Marriot hotel. The Elyton Hotel opened in 2017 with 117 guest rooms, a restaurant, and rooftop bar.
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. $24.99 retail price. Signed and includes shipping.