In the years prior to the Civil War French immigrant John G. Torrilhon had established himself in the butcher business. In 1860 the Thompkins Market opened near the Cooper Union. It was an unusual cast iron-fronted building with a split personality. The upper floors housed the Armory of the Seventh Regiment, while the ground floor served as a high-end grocery.
In 1862 historian Thomas F. DeVoe recorded the scope of Torrilhon’s offerings. “Under the stairway are located stands Nos. 43 and 45, kept by two Frenchmen, (F. A. Bailly and J. G. Torilhon,) who keep, besides pork in every conceivable form, boned turkeys, capons, larded bird-game, filet de boeuf, etc., many of which are cooked ready ‘for parties, breakfasts, dinners, or suppers, cold or warm.’”
In the meantime, to the west Sixth Avenue was developing. By now modest homes had cropped up along the blocks between 14th and 23rd Street. The uptown movement of commerce was already making itself felt. In 1869 Edwin Booth opened his colossal granite Shakespearean theater at the corner of 23rd Street and 6th Avenue and a year later William Moir’s expensive jewelry store opened on the opposite corner. John Thorrilhon saw opportunity beyond the butcher trade.
The same year that Moir opened his jewelry store, Thorrilhon commissioned Julius F. Munckwitz to design a hotel at No. 680 Sixth Avenue. The choice of architects was, perhaps, surprising since Munckwitz was at the time the Supervising Architect and Superintendent of Parks. While working on Thorilhon’s hotel he was simultaneously designing park structures with Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould.
A harmonious blend of Italianate and neo-Grec styles, the four-story building was faced in Ohio stone. Each floor was separated by a projecting band course with another connecting each row of windows. A handsome pressed cornice finished the reserved composition.
|The Ohio stone, easily mistaken for marble, was carved with neo-Grec details.|
Business in the new hotel was apparently good, for a year later Torrilhon brought Munckwitz back to add a two-story extension to the rear. As the grand retail palaces of 6th Avenue crowded in during the last quarter of the century, the hotel got in on the act.
In 1887 the building was owned by John Parke. He hired contractor J. H. Fitzpatrick to remove the street level façade and install a storefront. While the Hotel Mumm operated upstairs, the first floor was rented out to retail stores for additional income.
Parke had died by 1899, but his family held on to the property and replaced the storefront that year. Changes, however, were coming to the Ladies’ Mile. In 1902 Macy’s Department Store leap-frogged the entire shopping district, closing its store at 14th Street and 6th Avenue and opening its enormous new emporium on 34th Street. it was the first domino to fall that would result in the end of the Ladies’ Mile.
|Unlike the blocks filled with grand emporiums, this one sprouted a jumble of small commercial buildings like the hotel.|
Heiser took over operation of the Hotel Mumm and things quickly went downhill. In the years just prior to the war, the grand retail stores had nearly all closed and the forty-year old hotel was, at best, dowdy. Heiser’s solution for the problem was to turn it into a disorderly house—or brothel. A little cash supplied to Police Inspector James H. Gillen insured that there would be no disruption of business.
That all came to a screeching halt in the spring of 1914. Police Commissioner McKay suspected graft and ordered a raid on suspected disorderly houses. Among them was the Hotel Mumm.
While Inspector Gillen faced charges of neglect of duty and failure to enforce laws, Heiser had problems of his own. On April 11, 1914 the New-York Tribune reported “Inspectors may come and inspectors may go, like Gillen, but the Hotel Mumm goes on forever.” The article said that Lieutenant Dan Costigan’s “specialty nowadays is going around raiding places that every one except the police knows are running.
“Into his net last night fell the proprietor of the Hotel Mumm, one John Heiser, who can go into the jewelry business, judging from his appearance last night.”
At Gillen’s trial one particular witness testified about the hotel. The Evening World reported “Women and men of bad character congregated there, he said. He had observed many men and women entering and leaving the hotel without baggage. Many times, he said, he had been solicited by women near the hotel while on his way to his studio.”
The hotel was converted to shops and offices and throughout the 20th century was home to an assortment of small businesses—dressmakers and embroiders, for instance, took space on the upper floors while various stores (one a china and glass merchant) occupied the street level.
After the dark period of the 1970s and 80s when the old Ladies’ Mile suffered neglect and misuse, a renaissance brought new purpose to the blocks of buildings. In 2005 No. 680 was renovated to apartments—two per floor—and today a Chipotle serves Mexican food at street level.
Few would suspect that the staid stone structure once took care of the lodging needs of Victorian tourists and, later in life, satisfied baser desires.
photographs taken by the author
photographs taken by the author