Occupations | Baker
Birthdate: 18 Apr 1860
I was very fortunate to be able to meet the granddaughter of Hermann Zerell, Dorothy Lee Zerell Jefferson, and interview her about her family and the homes they lived in in Monrovia. Additionally, Dorothy has taken much time in writing memories of her life in Monrovia and the histories of her parents and grandparents.
Herman Zerell, a German immigrant arrived to Monrovia in 1887, shortly after marrying Jacobina Heim, also a German immigrant, on 4 June 1887 in Arkansas where they had met earlier that year. One of the reasons they moved to California was because Jacobina had contacted malaria, and the weather was supposed to improve her health. It certainly did that as she assisted her husband in his bakery business, bore five children, and lived to be eight-nine years old!!
When Herman Zerell arrived in the United States, he worked at a cracker factory, and then for a butcher. He had trained as a baker in Germany before emigrating to the United States. Shortly after arriving to Monrovia, he was advertising himself as a baker (Monrovia Planet, 24 Dec. 1887)
In 1900, the Zerell family moved to 336 N. Ivy Avenue where members of the family lived for almost the next 90 years, and though they were not the first owners, the house became known as the "Zerell House" and received local historic landmark status in 1998.
Where the Zerells lived before moving to 336 N. Ivy Avenue has been a puzzle to me and to Dorothy Jefferson. Her father told her that his parents lived around Huntington Drive when they first moved to Monrovia and some of the tax records support that. But there are other records that indicate that they may have lived in at least two other places as well.
The 1888 tax records show the first place the Zerells may have lived was Block 13, Lot J in the Bradbury Subdivision. This property is on the west side of South Myrtle, about where the 210 Freeway is now. In the tax record, the description of the property next to Herman Zerell’s name is crossed out and a note written that the property was assessed to L.L. Bradbury. There is an improvement recorded for that property of $125 which would have been a very small house. The city clerk may have thought the Zerells owned the property because they were living there but then realized his mistake and penciled a note that the tax had been assessed to L.L. Bradbury. If Zerell was renting the property, he was probably doing his baking there, assisted by Jacobina, and carrying the goods around town by wagon until he made enough money to buy something more permanent which he did in 1889.
The Monrovia Messenger of 1888 (August 9) reports that "H. Zerell the baker has removed to the building he purchased on Orange (now Colorado) near the Place Meat market and is prepared to furnish all kinds of bread, cakes, pies, etc. All of excellent quality, try him." However, there is no tax record showing that he owned any property at all in 1888, but this could be another case where the tax record is incorrect.
What the 1889 tax records do show is that Zerell purchased was the east half of Lot 16 in Block K where the parking lot for the Monrovia restaurant is now. In 1890, there is a $400 improvement listed for that property which was the bakery, but it was a one-story building, so the Zerells definitely didn’t live there.
Besides the bakery property, the 1889 tax records show that the other piece of property Zerell bought was in the Bradbury Addition, Block 13, Lot J, the lot he may have been renting since 1887. This was located on the west side of South Myrtle, just about where the 210 Freeway now crosses, but if the tax records are correct, he only kept this property for one year.
In 1890, having sold his property in Block 13 of the Bradbury Addition, he bought another piece of property in the same addition, only this time Block 11, Lot H. This is on the west side of South Myrtle, between Cherry and Los Angeles Avenues which would have put him about one block closer to town. However, he didn’t build anything on it until 1893 when his first child was born so where were the Zerells living in the meantime?
They could have stayed in one of the residential hotels in town. The Central Hotel was only two lots away from his bakery. Or the tax records could be wrong and they didn’t buy the house in Block 13 but continued to rent it until they moved to the other Bradbury in Block 11.
In 1892, Herman Zerell began to invest in more property and purchased some prime property on South Myrtle, Myers Subdivision of Block L, Lots 23 & 24. What Myers had done was to take Lots 23 & 24 of Block L in the Town of Monrovia and divided them up into seven narrow lots. Zerell bought Lots 2 & 3 of this new subdivision which is between West Lemon and West Orange (now West Colorado). The 1897 Sanborn map (see #...) shows a one-story, narrow building on each lot. One is identified as a bakery, a much bigger bakery than the one Zerell owned on East Orange. The other building is divided in half, one side is a restaurant the other is a jewelry store. These were single story dwellings at this time, so it isn’t likely the Zerells were staying here. Zerell owned this property until 1914. Tax information indicates a new structured appeared in 1909 and updated in 1917. At this time, a second story would have been added above the commercial buildings, but this enlargement would have too late for the Zerells as they had moved into their family home on Ivy in 1900. This building which should be known as the Zerell Block still exists with addresses of 519, 521, and 521 ½ South Myrtle Avenue.
In 1893, Zerell bought a very small odd piece of property, the south 25ft of the north 50ft of Lot 13 in Block P. The Sanborn fire insurance maps shows that Lot 13 faces South Myrtle and is on the alley. Mr. Zerell bought the part of the lot that was on the alley. Perhaps he used it for storage for the bakery. The last tax record that shows Zerelling owning Lot 3 in Block P was in1905
Here are the remembrances Dorothy Jefferson has of her grandfather’s bakery business:
"Herman and Jacobina’s bakery was on the north side of the 100 block of East Colorado (then Orange Avenue). When I was young my father [John H. Zerell] pointed out the lot to me and indicated that was where grandpa had his bakery. He also showed me an iron ring, embedded in the concrete in front of that space and told me that was where horses were tied while their owners were shopping in the bakery.
Herman traveled, with a horse and cart, selling his baked goods, to towns around the area. The circuit took him about a week to complete, and Jacobina handled the business in his absence. The Monrovia Messenger on 27 February 1890 again stated, "H. Zerell is baking excellent bread now. Try it and be convinced."
A significant even occurred for Herman and Jacobina in 1894. Grover Cleveland was president and the economy was not doing well, so a large contingent of unemployed workers left Los Angeles to go across the United States to Washington D.C., to bring attention to the plight of the unemployed. They stayed overnight in one of Monrovia’s large fruit packing/drying sheds and needed to fed, so the City asked Herman and Jacobina to make 600 loaves of bread to feed the hungry men.
By 1897, living space in their house on South Myrtle must have been getting tight. The Zerell’s first child, Mary Francis "Fannie", had been born in 1893, Mary Alice in 1896, and Lydia B. in 1897. This may have caused Herman Zerell to look around for property on which to build a bigger house, and it may have been what he had in mind when he purchased the west half of Lot 4 in Block M of the Town of Monrovia in 1897. Block M lies between the second block of West Lemon and West Orange (now Colorado). Lot 4 is on the south side of West Lemon. He held onto the property, eventually buying the east half of Lot 3, until 1903, but he never built anything on them.
Another unimproved property the Zerells purchased in 1897, was Lot 25 in Block E of J.D. Bicknell’s Addition. This property, which is on South Magnolia between West Chestnut and West Walnut, was also very promising as the Pacific Electric ran right up the street, but he never built anything there either and sold it by 1904.
In 1900, however, he finally found THE house, Lot 45 in Block B of the Ocean View tract, 336 N. Ivy Avenue. Their first son, John Herman was born the same year in the house. And the Zerells lived the rest of their lives and raised four children in this modest Victorian, which, on a clear day, really did have an ocean view.
1903 was a mixture of sadness and happiness for the Zerell family. On September 5 daughter Lydia died at the age of five. Three months later, Herman and Jacobina’s last child, Benjamin Adams was born on December 2nd.
There is one last piece of property associated with Herman Zerell, and that is a piece of property on the west side of South Myrtle, right above East Olive that he bought in 1904. This was Block 0, Lot 23 (Town of Monrovia) and the north 7 ½ inches of Lot 24. The next year the tax record shows that he built a structure on them valued at $1500,which puts the total value of this property $3,090, and Zerell’s property taxes for this property alone in 1905 was $49 dollars. He was probably able to build such a substantial structure because he had sold off his properties in Block M and Bicknells addition He owned these properties in Blocks L and O at least up until at 1916 when tax records at the Monrovia City Hall end.
Herman Zerell actually sold the bakery on East Orange in 1903. There are ads in the Monrovia newspaper during the 1890s for the sale or rental of the property...cheap...but it didn’t sell. Herman Zerell may also have sold his bakery, but he continued to work for other bakeries, one in Pasadena where he stayed during the week and then came home on weekends. Between that job and the income from his property rentals, Herman Zerell was able to make a good living for his family.
Dorothy Jefferson Zerell describes the lives of her grandparents, father and aunts and uncles as very frugal. "Both my grandparents were very frugal, as you could imagine, because they were still using the wood stove in the kitchen and as long as I visited, they had an "icebox" on the back porch. No electric refrigerator. Property was important to my grandfather, but material things were not. They had what they needed, but no extras... they lived frugally and were wise in their investments and savings. They were able to send both of their daughters to college and helped their sons become established in their businesses and in the purchase of homes for their families."
According to Dorothy Zerell Jefferson, her grandmother became involved with a religious group often referred to has "holly rollers" or perhaps today as evangelical Pentecostal. The church was quite controversial at the time as their worship services tended to be rather vocally enthusiastic. Dorothy quotes from an article she found in the Los Angeles Herald (21 July 1906) "There was conflict among the Monrovians, some of whom criticized the religious fervor that, in some cases, resulted in the individuals going into a trance like state and speaking in a language that could not be understood. This was known as speaking in "tongues" and was suppose to be the individual receiving divine messages that they were delivering to the congregation." Apparently Jacobina Zerell’s association with the group caused some talk about her being in her right senses.
Jacobina had originally been a Catholic but couldn’t seem to make a connection with the local Catholic church, but she did find her peace with God in this small, enthusiastic, and loud church, along with her children. Her husband, a Lutheran, did not involve himself in the church but never interfered with her many church activities
During the first few years the Zerells lived on North Ivy, the Zerells rented out one of their upstairs rooms. Two of the people they rented rooms to eventually played an important part in the commerce of Monrovia...the McBratney bothers. They started off selling Irish linens in a cart in the streets of Monrovia and ended up with the first and only department store (until 1955 with the addition of J.C. Penneys) on South Myrtle Avenue. The store employed many young people over the years, one of them being a young Dorothy Lee Zerell.
Dorothy remembers her grandfather as not being a quiet man and his voice seeming loud and his Germanic accent harsh. She knew he was a kind and gentle man and he also had a sense of humor. He would tease and his eyes would twinkle, letting her know that he was having fun with her. Additionally, he recognized the importance of ice cream to a young girl. Dorothy practiced on the piano in her grandparents’ parlor. Dorothy says: "Then my grandfather would come in when he heard the ice cream man ringing the truck’s bell as he drove through the neighborhood. Grandpa would take me with him, and we would wait out in front of the house for the ice cream truck to reach us. Then grandpa would let me pick out the ice cream bar I wanted. Of course, I had to eat it before it melted, so by the time my mother would return for me, I would not have practiced the amount of time she had expected. On the days that she was not working, that was okay, as she would just wait for me to complete my hour’s practice. But on the weeks when she was working and had to return to the station, she became quite "short" with my grandfather for stopping my practice. It didn’t bother him, and he continued to ensure that I got my ice cream.
On the other hand, her memories of her grandmother are of a small, quiet woman who sat in the background when the family gathered together at her house. By the time Dorothy was eight years old, Jacobina Zerell was already experiencing mental memory problems which would probably today be diagnosed as Alzheimers. Dorothy’s mother told her that when Dorothy was a baby (she had been adopted as an infant), that Grandma Zerell came over almost every day, wanting to hold little Dorothy. Dorothy says, " She and grandfather gave me a silver baby spoon, and when I was choosing a silver pattern for my wedding, I chose that Rose Point pattern, by Wallace."
Herman Zerell was born in Gross Krebs, Marienwerder, West Prussea, Germany, on April 18, 1860. His two older brothers emigrated to the Little Rock and Pine Bluff areas of Arkansas where an enclave of German immigrants had settled in the 1880s. Herman emigrated in 1882 or 1884 depending on which census record one looks at. As Dorothy tells the story: "When he reached Little Rock, he was helped, by a man at the hotel, to find work in a cracker factory. He was full of ambition and worked day and night, saving his money and sending some back home to his father. The factory later closed, and it was then that he found work with Michael Heim who was a butcher in Little Rock."
Michael Heim, had emigrated with his family and his brother’s family from Wachenheim, Germany, in 1881. His family was in the wine business. His younger sister and brother had arrived to the U.S. one week earlier, and the family headed out to Little Rock, Arkansas. Michael Heim’s sister was named Jacobina, and she had been born June 16, 1860.
Because Jacobina Heim was Catholic and Hermann Zerell was Lutheran, they were not allowed to marry in the church, so they were married in the home of the priest on June 4, 1887. Because Jacobina had had malaria, the decision was made to move to California, a dryer climate for her lungs.
Dorothy Jefferson told me that at the end of their lives, Jacobina had been calling her husband "that man" and seemed not to recognize him as her husband. This saddened him, as he cared deeply for her and his children. After he died on June 3, 1944, at the age of 83, several times a day Jacobina would ask, "Where is that man who lives here?" She would be told that he was away for awhile, or went down town, or some other statement that she could accept and that would not cause her grief. Granddaughter Dorothy said it was heartbreaking to watch her try to reconcile the bits of information that would float through her consciousness. Jacobina Heim Zerell died on October 12, 1949.
They had four children who lived to adulthood and all inherited their parents’ strong work ethic. The two eldest girls went to college and became teachers. The two boys both went into service industry jobs and married women who worked as hard as their husbands did.
Mary Frances (Fanny) married Luther Benning Foster, a real estate salesman, had two children, Luther Benning, Jr. (1923-2005) and Mary Jacqueline (1925) and lived in Los Angeles. She died in Long Beach on February 13, 1982.
The biographies Mary Alice, John Herman, and Benjamin Adams Zerell are entered elsewhere on this site as they are connected with other properties in Monrovia.