At the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham was a small town of two and three story buildings with a few church steeples punctuating the skyline. During the industrial boom from 1902 to 1912 which made Birmingham the largest city in the state. Four large buildings were constructed at the intersection of the City's main streets. The Woodward building (now National Bank of Commerce), constructed in 1902 on the Southwest corner, was the City's first steel-frame skyscraper. A good example of the Chicago school style of architecture, it brought a dramatic change to the vertical scale of the existing Victorian City. In 1906 the 16-story Brown Marx building rose on the Northeast corner; in 1908 an addition more than doubled its size. Long the South's largest office building, its principal tenant was United States Steel Corporation. The Empire building (1909, Northwest corner) and John A. Hand building (1912, Southeast corner), completed the "Heaviest Corner." Sheathed in marble, limestone, and terra cotta, they exemplify the more ornamental neoclassical style. Along the cornice of the Empire building (now Colonial Bank), "E's" stand for the Empire Improvement Company, which built the tower.
At the time, the height and mass of these buildings was so impressive that the intersection of First Avenue North and 20th Street was proclaimed the heaviest corner on Earth. Today these buildings represent the most significant group of early skyscrapers in the city.