The Hughes Memorial Tower is a three-legged, free-standing, star tower, similar to those built in 1936 for the Naval Radio Transmitter Facility in Annapolis, Maryland and in 1991 for WSTR-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio. The tower features nine strobe beacons, situated on each of the tower's legs at one beacon per 200 feet. These beacons are synchronized to flash at one-second intervals.
In 1998, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a plan to use the Hughes Memorial Tower as part of a 911-service upgrade. In doing so, it noted that the tower was constructed without its prior permission and has caused "concern about the effect of the tower on the views of the major monuments and memorials in the Nation’s Capital." The tower also generates criticisms among nearby neighborhoods in Ward 4; during the winter months, the police "frequently have to close the streets next to this tower because of the risk[s] posed by falling ice."
The Hughes Memorial Tower is located on a relatively high spot just off Georgia Ave., NW, in Washington's Brightwood neighborhood and is situated a few miles away from the city's main cluster of transmission towers in the Tenleytown section of D.C. Except for a much smaller transmission tower next to it, there are no nearby large structures. For these reasons, as well as its distinctive "star tower" shape and large size, the Hughes Memorial Tower is prominently visible from a variety of locations in the District of Columbia and suburban Maryland.
The tower has a series of day time strobe lights and night time red warning navigation lights. Prior to January 2008, the night time lights blinked in a three - step staggered way starting with the bottom set of lights, then the middle, and finally, the top most light. This cycle repeated approximately every two - three seconds and gave the tower a distinctive night time appearance. That month, these slower flashing red warning navigation lights were replaced with a more rapid blinking set of red LEDs that now flash in unison.