This paper presents a comprehensive assessment of damping values and other dynamic characteristics of five buildings using strong-motion and low-amplitude (ambient vibration) data. The strong-motion dynamic characteristics of five buildings within the San Francisco Bay area are extracted from recordings of the 17 October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (LPE). Ambient vibration response characteristics for the same five buildings were inferred using data collected in 1990 following LPE. Additional earthquake data other than LPE for one building and ambient vibration data collected before LPE for two other buildings provide additional confirmation of the results obtained. For each building, the percentages of critical damping and the corresponding fundamental periods determined from low-amplitude test data are appreciably lower than those determined from strong-motion recordings. These differences are attributed mainly to soil-structure interaction and other non-linear behavior affecting the structures during strong shaking. Significant contribution of radiation damping to the effective damping of a specific building is discussed in detail.