The Brown-Marx Tower is a part of the ‘Heaviest Corner on Earth’, located on the northeast corner of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North in Birmingham. Built in 1906, the Brown-Marx was the tallest building in downtown Birmingham for three years, until the Empire Building was built across the street. The steel-framed tower was initially going to be called The Eugeneotto Building, but the name was not well received. Instead, the building got its name from early tenants Eugene Brown and Otto Marx. 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 building after it was completed and planned to double the tower’s size over two years.
In 1908, under Woodward’s direction, 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. 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.
The building was financed by TCI Steel, who had its headquarters in the tower. TCI moved in the 1950s when they were bought by U.S. Steel and moved their headquarters to Fairfield.
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 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.
A year later, 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. 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 building of the four not to be individually listed.
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 wind storm 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. The cornice was removed in the 1970s and replaced with a metal enclosure.
In 2012, H2 Realty purchased the Brown Marx Tower and moved its offices to the first-floor annex building. The Brown-Marx Tower was sold in 2017 to a hotel developer who plans to renovate the property into a boutique hotel. As of January 2019, very little progress has been made and the tower remains abandoned.
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.