Early Residents of Monrovia
Mary Alice Zerell Siebert
Birthdate: October, 17, 1896
Birthplace: Monrovia, California
Mary Alice was the second child of Herman and Jacobina Zerell who had arrived to Monrovia in 1887 to establish a bakery business. In 1896 when Mary Alice was born, her parents and older sister Mary Francis were living on the west side of South Myrtle close by where the 210 Freeway is today.
Though her father originally prepared his baked goods from their home, by 1889, her father had a storefront on the north side of the first block of East Orange Avenue, now East Colorado Boulevard (the east half of Lot 16, Block K in the Town of Monrovia). Four years later, the family moved to their new home at 336 N. Ivy, the house that Mary Alice would live in for most of the rest of her life.
Mary Alice attended Monrovia schools, graduating from Monrovia High School. Her parents, who were very careful with their money, were able to send both Mary Francis and Mary Alice to college, and both young women became teachers.
Dorothy Zerell Jefferson, the daughter of Mary Alice’s brother John, describes her aunt this way:
Auntie would have made a great “flower child” of the 60’s. She was totally into health foods, and organic products. She was a gentle lady, dressed in flowing skirts, vests and scarves. However, she too had a voice that could turn your head. She was very artistic and it was her interest in art that brought her to the marriage with Uncle Max.
The picture of Mary Alice shown here is certainly evidence that what Dorothy says is true.
After graduating from college, Mary Alice got a job teaching and lived for awhile at 833 Cabrillo in Los Angeles with her sister. After Frances’s marriage in 1921, Mary returned to her family and rode the red-car to and from her teaching position in East Los Angeles.
Mary Alice enjoyed traveling; in 1934 she, her sister Mary Frances and Mary Frances’ two children went on a world tour. She went to Mexico in 1935 and Italy in 1936.
In 1938, Mary Alice married a German artist, Max Lewis Siebert. Unfortunately, the marriage was extremely short-lived. They were living in a rear house at 370 Kensington Avenue in Pasadena when Max died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1939. Mary Alice moved back into her parents’ house and lived there helping them until her first her father and then her mother died (1944 & 1949). She continued living in the family home until her late 80s when she became too infirm to live alone, and she moved into a nursing home.
The Cornwall family across the street looked out after her until she had to move, and she deeded the family home over to them. It was no bargain at that time. Her niece Dorothy Zerell Jefferson told me Mary Alice’s brother Ben said the only thing holding the house together were the termites holding hands in the foundation.
Additionally, Dorothy described her aunt as never throwing anything anyway. In other words, she had a mild case of hoarding. I was in the house right after the Cornwalls purchased it and opened it to my historic preservation group to buy the many “vintage” items still in the house. So I can say that it is true that Mary Alice saved everything, which was a good thing for collectors!
Mary Alice died in 1988 at the age of 91. It is unfortunate that she didn’t live long enough to see the wonderful restoration work the Cornwalls did on her family home and to see her family home receive historic landmark status.