When construction on the 14-story Empire Building at Marietta and Broad streets began in 1900, Atlanta developers were on track to spend a record-setting $6 million on new high-rises. Thought to be named after the insurance firm that bankrolled its construction, the Empire was a risky work environment. An argument between two cabinetmakers over a joke whose humor is lost to history—“Ain’t [you] a pretty almanac picture?”—ended in a shooting. A laborer working an overnight shift fell 40 feet down an elevator shaft and fractured his skull. Working in all elements and even toiling illegally on the Sabbath to fortify a steel girder, the crew managed to cap off what was then the city’s tallest office building. After the last brick was laid in 1901, tenants, such as the National Weather Service, could see as far as Lookout Mountain. Even more surprising for Atlanta, a city never too busy to tear down its past, the structure now owned by Georgia State University stands to this day.
This article originally appeared in our September 2017 issue.