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Forget the Washington Monument; DC's tallest tower is actually in Ward 4

Most people consider the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument to be DC's tallest tower. It's certainly the city's most iconic. But it's not the tallest. That distinction belongs to the 761-foot Hughes Tower.

Hughes Tower. Photo by thebrightwoodian on Flickr.

Hughes Tower is in Brightwood, near the corner of Georgia Avenue and Peabody Street NW. It's primarily a radio transmission tower, broadcasting signals for the Metropolitan Police Department.

The tower is owned by the District of Columbia, and was built in 1989.

Although the tower vastly overshoots DC's usual height limit, transmission towers are one of several exempted categories of structures. Thus, a 761-foot tower doesn't necessarily violate federal law, though DC's zoning code imposes other limits that prevent anyone from just building such a tower. The National Capital Planning Commission also wasn't happy about this one.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Love the Hughes Tower! Took this photo of it a couple of years ago. I've heard other photographers have been hassled by security guards for taking closeups of it:

by MrTinDC on Jul 24, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

The washington monument is the world's tallest masonry freestanding structure. ie no structural steel

by Richard on Jul 24, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

My husband and I love sitting on our balcony at night and watching the tower's slowly blinking red lights. We have a great view of the tower with Piney Branch Park in the foreground.

by richie on Jul 24, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

It's DC's Eiffel Tower, we should sell tickets to view it close up

by Randall M. on Jul 24, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

I heard they were thinking of renaming it Walmart Tower

by Nancy Pelosi on Jul 24, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

Richard, not true. Montana's Anaconda Smelter Stack is 30 feet taller than the Washington Monument.

by DMarshall on Jul 24, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

The makers of Fallout 3 would disagree that the Washington monument has no structural steel:

by engrish_major on Jul 24, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

According to Wikipedia, the Washington Monument is the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk.

by Ross on Jul 24, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

Who was Hughes?

by DavidDuck on Jul 24, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

But lets panic if the Height Act is relaxed to allow a 150 ft building in Friendship Heights because all of the views will be ruined!

by 202_Cyclist on Jul 24, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

@engrish_major -- yeah, the makers of Fallout 3 said they know the real Washington Monument doesn't have a steel skeleton but they figured it would be more evocative to have a recognizable ruined monument standing there rather than just a pile of stone rubble, or something like that.

by iaom on Jul 24, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

@DavidDuck -- John S. Hughes was a longtime MPD officer who joined the department in 1942 and eventually became head of the Technical Services Bureau, running the various police communications systems. He died in 1995, six years after the tower was built. (It's officially the Hughes Memorial Tower.)

by iaom on Jul 24, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

Here's the inside story on the tower, which comes complete with hidden Jesus fish:

by John Kelly on Jul 24, 2014 6:36 pm • linkreport

Wow so basically the public is forced to look at a giant Jesus fish that was paid for with our tax dollars?

by Dave G on Jul 24, 2014 9:28 pm • linkreport

Whatever on the Jesus fish. If you go looking for crescents or crosses or fishes or stars or pentagrams in buildings (or any other object), you will find them.

I think the tower is quite nice - I see it outside my office window every day.

by DavidDuck on Jul 24, 2014 9:51 pm • linkreport

Except in this case the designer explicitly based the design on a Jesus fish.

by Dave G on Jul 25, 2014 6:38 am • linkreport

I've always hated the tower. I think it's ugly and massively out of proportion. Is it even necessary anymore given technological advances?

by TakomaNick on Jul 25, 2014 8:33 am • linkreport

@Dave G-- We're a largely Christian nation. Get over it, or don't look at the tower.

by Sally on Jul 25, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

@Sally - Yes, and the operative word is "largely," which means there are other religions here too, and people of no faith. So that "Christian nation" stuff is just a fiction. We also can't have any tyranny of any religious majority here or the Constitution means nothing.

So feel free to build another such tower on your church property :-)

by Dave G on Jul 25, 2014 9:51 am • linkreport

@Dave G - You used 25 lower case t's in your last comment. Lower case t's remind me of the cross that Jesus died on and as such are offensive. Why must you perpetuate Christian tyranny in your comments?

Trigger warning next time, okay?

by richie on Jul 25, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

What is a "trigger warning?" Oh, look I used 2 t's now 3 LOL

by Dave G on Jul 25, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

If you factor in the elevation above sea level, the towers of the National Cathedral are actually higher than the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument is 555 high from its base, but its base is only 40 feet above sea level, yielding a top elevation of 595 feet above sea level.

The base of the National Cathedral is 385 feet above sea level, and the height of the tower is 301 feet above the ground, yielding a top elevation of 656 feet above sea level, 61 feet higher than that of the Washington Monument.

by Frank IBC on Jul 25, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

@Dave G--

I'll bet it really burns you up that churches by longstanding tradition in DC have certain parking and other privileges on Sundays....

by Jack on Jul 25, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

@Jack - Even though we've had that discussion on here several times and I'm not going to get into it right now, yes I agree that granting such privileges is improper.

by Dave G on Jul 25, 2014 5:09 pm • linkreport

I don't know which is more ridiculous: the fact that the tallest structure in the capital city of the richest nation in history is a friggin communications tower or the fact that people are upset over having to look at it.

by August4 on Jul 26, 2014 7:36 am • linkreport

It's improper especially if it prevents placement of bike infrastructure that was planned to be there. I don't understand why other Sunday church parking arrangements can't be made with at least one of the numerous parking facilities in the area. Guess that would anger Courtland Milloy et. al. too much...

by Dave G on Jul 26, 2014 8:14 am • linkreport

Dave G forget Courtland Milloy - you know you don't mess with little old ladies on their way to church.

by asffa on Jul 26, 2014 12:44 pm • linkreport

Maybe, just perhaps, it's because nearly all of those "numerous parking facilities in the area" are privately-owned and closed on Sunday. An easy solution to the church parking " problem" that so any newcomers find to be so bothersome would be municipal parking garages like the ones other cities have. But, nooooo! And before anyone starts with the "they all come from Maryland" canard, keep in mind that many if not most DC church members are life-long/long-time DC residents.

by August4 on Jul 26, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

And many of us who live in Maryland and attend church in DC are people who own property in DC, pay DC taxes, grew up in DC, and bought and rehabbed properties in now-trendy neighborhoods that were redlined by the banks in our day.

by August4 on Jul 26, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

Simple solution: come up with ways to make weekday only parking more available on Sundays. It's likely that far less money would be required than needed for a garage.

The rest of the money could go to new radio towers that celebrate all faiths as befits a pluralistic society.

by drumz on Jul 26, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

@ Frank IBC: You made a good and interesting point, but your math is a little off. 385 + 301 feet = 686 feet, not 656.

by slowlane on Jul 26, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

The tower does honor faiths other than Christianity. To me, its a gefilte fish.

That said, folks should follow the parking laws, and as you say, it would certainly make more sense to arrange to get the private garages open on Sunday than to build municipal garages.

BTW, in other jurisdictions you do not retain voting rights for being a former resident, even a life long one. Nor for owning property. DC is unique in so many ways!

by Jewdishooary Skver on Jul 26, 2014 8:08 pm • linkreport

I like those magnetic sharks that chase the magnetic Jesus fish (which try to swim away in terror), a tableau sometimes seen on people's cars. It's a commentary on how some people feel about pushy Bible thumpers B-)

by Dave G on Jul 27, 2014 5:47 am • linkreport

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