Answer Man Uncovers A Memorial to a Dream

The mausoleum for a man
The mausoleum for a man "who believed in this old swamp." (John Kelly - The Washington Post)

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By John Kelly
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Yesterday my husband and I exited the inner loop of the Capital Beltway south of Alexandria near Eisenhower Avenue. As we came around the offramp, I saw a large mausoleum near the Holiday Inn Eisenhower. We drove down to take a look. It's designed like a Roman temple, with black marble columns and a lovely door with glass insets. It is beautiful. The name on the building is Hoffman, and it is dedicated "To My Wonderful Sister, Mildred." Is there a story behind a mausoleum being placed in that location?

-- Sheila Spillane Faulkner, Falls Church

If you've ever seen a movie at the AMC Hoffman theaters, worked at either of the high-rise Hoffman office buildings, stayed at the aforementioned Holiday Inn or otherwise trodden any of that part of Alexandria known as the "Eisenhower Valley," you can thank Hubert N. Hoffman Sr .

Where others saw swamp, "Dutch" Hoffman saw opportunity.

In fact, that's what's carved on a stone outside the mausoleum: "This Will Always Be the Land of Opportunity." Answer Man wonders whether "the land" refers to the United States of America or to the 71 acres near Telegraph Road that Hoffman purchased for $200,000 in 1958.

It was, he told The Post in 1983, "every nickel I had in the world. My learned friends, other developers, assured me I would lose my family."

Dutch Hoffman was a Washington native who was orphaned at a young age and lived with his older sister, Mildred , and her husband. She died when Dutch was 16, at which point her widowed husband lent him $20 and sent him on his way. Hoffman dabbled in baked goods and dry cleaning before moving into the life insurance business, eventually becoming a top salesman for New York Life.

The land he bought in 1958 was not promising. Basically swampy scrub, it was home to a trailer park and a landfill. But the real estate salesman who showed Hoffman the acreage promised that the Beltway would be coming through.

Even so, it took six years to find a lender who would front Hoffman money to build the hotel. The Hoffman Co. remembered those lean years in a 1983 press release: "Throughout this long period, there were only two people who believed in this old swamp: the good Lord and Hoffman. Sometimes Hoffman thought there was just one."

One was enough, if that one was Dutch Hoffman.

"He was a very goal-oriented man," said his grandson Troy Hoffman , who works at the hotel, which was built in 1967. "When he set his mind to it, he did it."

The Hoffman empire grew, and although the developer never was able to erect the 35-story skyscraper he envisioned on that site, just about everything else came true. In 2001, he persuaded Alexandria to pass a special ordinance allowing a mausoleum to be built on his land. The remains of his sister, Mildred, were disinterred and placed there. By that time, Hoffman himself was sick with prostate cancer. He joined Mildred in 2002.

The Hoffman mausoleum is a bit incongruous, sitting as it does right near the hotel parking lot and within a flung hubcap of the Beltway offramp. But it's screened on one side by evergreen trees and surrounded by pleasing landscaping. Through the glass of the locked door, a visitor can see the crypt that contains Mildred and Dutch. There's an Oriental rug on the floor and various items atop the crypt, including a photo of Dutch Hoffman sitting behind a desk.

"This was his dream, to build all this," said Troy Hoffman, meaning the thriving area around Eisenhower Avenue. "Basically, he's sitting in his grave going, 'Hah! I told you!' "

Julie Feldmeier helped research this column. Send your Washington-area-related questions

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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