The Brown Marx Tower is apart of the ‘Heaviest Corner on Earth,’ resting on the northeast corner of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Built in 1906, the Brown Marx was the tallest building in downtown Birmingham for 3 years until the Empire Building was built across the street.
The Brown Marx Tower was named after early tenants Eugene Brown and Otto Marx. The steel-framed tower was going to be called The Eugeneotto Building, but the name was not well received. The development of the 16-story tower was an immediate success with every floor occupied besides the two upper floors, which were left undeveloped.
William Woodward, a local iron capitalist, purchased the tower and planned to double the building’s size over the next two years.
In 1908, a U-shaped expansion was completed by Chicago architects. The building’s overall size increased to 193,000 square feet. Windows were added so that every office had natural light. It has 1,667 windows to be exact. The interior was covered in Alabama marble with a cornice over the 3rd story arched windows. These details were later removed in a 1930s renovation.
The building was financed by TCI Steel, who had its headquarters in the tower until the 1950s when they were bought by U.S. Steel and moved to Fairfield, AL.
A pool hall speakeasy was located in the basement.
In 1914, George Bodeker opened Bodeker’s National Detective Agency on the 2nd floor. He was ousted as Police Chief after claims he took bribes from bordellos and gambling houses. The agency grew to have offices all over the Southeast.
A year later, former Police Chief C.W. Austin opened C.W. Austin’s Secret Service Agency on the 4th floor of the Brown Marx Tower. He was the one who took credit for ousting Chief Bodeker after the bribery scandal. Throughout the years the tenants ranged from the Brown Marx cigar company to various insurance and law firms.
The four early 20th century towers at 20th Street and 1st Avenue were billed, as the “Heaviest Corner in the South.” Over the years, that claim has grown to the “Heaviest Corner on Earth“. In 1985, the “Heaviest Corner on Earth” was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Brown Marx Tower is the only tower of the four not to also be individually listed.
By the early 2000s, the few remaining tenants were moved to another building. Then a $22 million dollar renovation was proposed to the city. The plan was to convert the building to apartments and retail space with an attached parking garage. Unfortunately, negotiations fell through with the Birmingham Parking Authority when they decided not to build an adjoining parking deck halting the renovation.
The rooftop of the Brown Marx Tower provides one of the best views of Birmingham.
Scaffolding was erected around the building’s sidewalk to shield pedestrians from falling glass and debris. The cornice was removed in the 1970s and replaced with a metal enclosure. In 2009, a strong wind storm caused the metal to be removed after pieces began hanging 210 feet above the ground.
In 2012, H2 Realty purchased the Brown Marx Tower and moved their offices to the 1st floor annex building. Today the renovations are still in the planning stages with no set date to begin.