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In this episode of Should Have Asked a Tour Guide, we clear up the common misconception that the US Capitol is the tallest building in DC.

Check us out on YouTube - Top Things To Do DC - for our weekly series, Should Have Asked A Tour Guide, every Tuesday at 230pm.

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Is the Capitol the Tallest Building in DC?


Female Speaker: I heard there's a law that no building could be taller than Capitol Building. Is that true?

Canden: So, Capitol Building, the tallest building in Washington, DC. Is that true?

Becca: That is a very common myth. A very common misconception that people think that Capitol Building is the tallest building, or that they think there's a law that limits the height of a building based on the Capitol or sometimes the Washington Monument. It's not true, but it is certainly a widely spread misconception. If you think that, that's okay.

Canden: What is the DC law associated? That's what I want to ask.

Rebecca: The height law on buildings is complicated in Washington because it's Washington. That's how we do. No building can be more than 20 feet higher than the width of the street that it's on, which means that most of our tallest buildings, and by tallest, I mean "tallest", are going to be on K Street because that's the widest street in the District.

Becca: To expand on that a little bit - our first act to ever really talk about how tall buildings could be comes in 1899, which is before a lot of the more modern architecture that we've come to expect. Congress reevaluates the Height Act in 1910, and sort of sets up the limitation we have today. Essentially though, 130 feet is about the limit. It's either the width of the street it's located on, plus 20 feet or 130 feet. Unless you get a special exception, you're not building a building taller than 130 feet if it's being built after 1910.

Canden: Which is not very tall.

Becca: Not very tall.

Rebecca: Not very tall. No. They deliberately wanted to give DC a low profile. What is the tallest building in Washington?

Canden: What is the tallest? Well, that depends on what you describe as a building.

Rebecca: It depends on how you measure the tallest.

Canden: I only just recently discovered what it was. The radio tower.

Becca: The Hughes Tower. If you've ever been up inside the Washington Monument, the Old Post Office Pavilion, or any high spot in DC, you've maybe noticed what looks a little like the Eiffel Tower.

Rebecca: [laughs]

Becca: It looks a little like the Eiffel Tower, but it's essentially a radio tower. It's more than 700 feet tall. It isn't considered a building because it's used to draw in radio.

Rebecca: Also, it depends on how you measure tallest. For example, the Washington Monument is taller than the Washington National Cathedral, but the Washington National Cathedral is on a pretty significant hill. Do you measure the hill?

Becca: I think when we're talking about the height of a building, we're going from the base of the building from the ground level up. That would mean, the Washington Monument, 555 feet tall, 5 1/8 inches or 169 meters, is the tallest stand-alone structure.

Canden: Such a tour guide.

Rebecca: Such a tour guide.

Canden: Capitol Building, not the tallest building in Washington, DC.

Rebecca: Not even close.

Becca: Not even close.

Canden: No law that says it has to be the tallest. That is not true.

Rebecca: Not true.

Canden: If you guys have any future myths, misconceptions, questions about Washington, DC or American History in general, comment below. Let us know. Tag us on social media @topthingstodoDC, #shouldhaveaskedatourguide.


[00:03:13] [END OF AUDIO]

What do YOU want to know about DC? Let us know by commenting on a video or tagging us on social media @topthingstododc using #shouldhaveaskedatourguide

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.
Updated: January 17th, 2023
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