Brown-Marx Tower

The Brown-Marx Tower sits on the site of the old National Bank of Birmingham building, also known as Linn’s Folly. The 3-story building was Birmingham’s first multi-story commercial building and was completed in 1873. Built in 1906, the Brown-Marx Tower is the second oldest building on the Heaviest Corner on Earth, following the Woodward Building (1902). Once completed, the 16-story skyscraper was Birmingham’s tallest building, until the Empire Building went up three years later across the street.

Brown-Marx Tower
From 1906 to 1908, the Brown-Marx Tower was half the size it is today.

Initially, the steel-framed tower was going to be named The Eugeneotto Building after Eugene Brown of the Brown Brothers and Otto Marx of Marx & Company, but the name was not well received. Instead, the building was named Brown-Marx. The development became an immediate success with every floor occupied except for two upper floors which were left unfinished. The success of the Brown-Marx encouraged iron magnate William Woodward to purchase the building in 1908. Over the next two years, under Woodward’s direction, Chicago architects doubled the size of the building with the U-shaped expansion we recognize today. The building’s overall size increased to 193,000 square feet. Windows were added so that every office had natural light. The Brown-Marx Tower has 1,667 windows to be exact. Some interior details such as the Alabama marble and a cornice over the third story arched windows were later removed in a 1930s renovation.

As with most early buildings in Birmingham, the architects took great care to make the Brown-Marx as beautiful as possible. On the exterior, intricate banding and arched windows accentuated the light-colored brick of the facade. In addition, the ground floor’s stone exterior showcased retail goods behind broad glass windows. Local Alabama marble decorated the interior of the building, and the top of the tower was topped off with a decorative cornice, although some of these ornate decorations were removed throughout the years, the building remains an impressive sight.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”. The cornice was removed in the 1970s and replaced with a metal enclosure. In 1985, the “Heaviest Corner on Earth” was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Brown-Marx Tower is the only building of the four not to be individually listed.

The Brown-Marx had a number of retail and office tenants. The Subway Cafe opened in the basement in February 1907. The cafe and bar opened at 6:00 P.M. with dinner accompanied by an orchestra. The interior of the restaurant was furnished in Fleming oak with mission furniture. The walls are decorated with landscape paintings and other scenes in inlaid wood, the idea for which was derived from the elegant smoking room of the steamer Wilhelm der Gross.

Early tenants include Brown Marx Cigar Company, TCI, Pratt Consolidated Coal Company, Southern Iron & Steel Company, Birmingham Coal & Iron Company, Montevallo Coal Company, Shelby Iron Company, Empire Coal Company, Galloway Coal Company and Cement Block & Manufacturing Company. Other offices include those of coal wholesalers Adams, Rowe, & Norman, Employers Insurance Company, Lathrop Lumber Company, Oliver-Watts Construction Company, architect Jack B. Smith, T. S. Smith & Sons auto dealers, the Southern Building Code Congress, the Raymond J. Horn School of Drafting, Hillman-Watts Land Company, W. A. Watts, realtor, and Watts Realty. Attorneys Percy, Benners & Burr, who counted TCI among their clients, also kept offices there. Watts Realty managed the Brown-Marx Tower from 1974 until its sale to a new owner in the early 1980s.

There are quite a few interesting stories related to the former tenants of Brown-Marx. In what was likely one of the first deaths associated with the building, in 1908, Miss Emma Blair, a stenographer, committed suicide by ingesting oxalic acid in her office on the 3rd floor. Before her death, she operated a public stenographic bureau along with her business partner J. B. Burkett. In 1914, George Bodeker opened Bodeker’s National Detective Agency on the 2nd floor in room 209. He was ousted as Birmingham Police Chief after claims he took bribes from bordellos and gambling houses. Bodeker’s Detective Agency grew to have offices all over the Southeast. The following year, in 1915, former Police Chief C.W. Austin opened C.W. Austin’s Secret Service Agency on the 4th floor. Austin was the one who took credit for ousting Chief Bodeker after the bribery scandal.

Brown-Marx Tower
A 1983 ad in the Birmingham Post-Herald for office space in the Brown-Marx Tower

By the early 2000s, the few remaining tenants were vacated from the Brown-Marx Tower. A $22 million renovation was proposed to the city of Birmingham. The plan was to convert the building to apartments and retail space with an attached parking garage. Unfortunately, the renovation halted after negotiations fell through with the Birmingham Parking Authority. In 2009, a strong windstorm caused the metal to be removed after pieces began hanging 210 feet above the ground. Scaffolding was erected around the building’s sidewalk to shield pedestrians from falling glass and debris.  In 2012, H2 Realty purchased the Brown-Marx Tower and moved its offices to the first-floor annex building. An LLC affiliated with Ascent Hospitality purchased the building in January 2018. Ascent Hospitality previously renovated the Elyton Hotel next door. It is currently under construction.

Brown-Marx Tower

Brown-Marx Tower

Brown-Marx Tower
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Brown-Marx Tower
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Remodel plans from 1965 left behind.

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Brown-Marx Tower

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Hallway

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Brown-Marx Tower

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Wallpaper is the only thing left on one of the upper floors.
Brown-Marx Tower
An elevator room on the upper floor
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The rooftop of the Brown-Marx Tower provides one of the best views of downtown Birmingham.

Thank you for reading. Please share the blog with your friends. I appreciate the support.

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For more amazing, abandoned places from across Birmingham, check out my book Abandoned Birmingham.

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