Ursula Cheshire was 5½ years old when she and her parents moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in late 1907/early 1908, settling in at 1422 Malvern Avenue. Built in 1903, their new house — which they rented — was located in the area now called Pico-Union, an urban neighborhood in central LA. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Pico-Union district was originally developed between 1880 and 1930 “as a chic suburb for oil barons and others, including European and Mexican immigrants” and is “one of the city’s most architecturally diverse communities.”
Ursula’s father, Alfred, was no oil baron, but he did all right. Several years before, he had sold his San Francisco funeral home business at a good profit, and the 1910 U.S. Census lists his occupation as “Own income.” That year, the Cheshires’ neighbors included another man of independent means, as well as households headed by teachers, printers, real estate brokers, engineers, salesmen and more. A few of the families on their block employed live-in servants.
The Cheshires’ new home was just 1 mile (a 20-minute walk or a quick trip on the Pico Boulevard streetcar) from the Egan School, where Ursula studied with the best dancing, drama and singing instructors of her day. You can learn more about Ursula’s experience at the school and about her dance teacher and Shakespeare and opera coaches in these earlier posts: A Jackpot of Clues, Part 2 and Ursula’s Teachers: The Best in the West. (Note: If you’re having trouble viewing some of these posts’ image links in Chrome, try Firefox.)
The house at 1422 Malvern Avenue is still standing today — painted teal and sprouting palm trees in the front yard — albeit in a changed neighborhood. Now home to immigrants from Central America, Mexico, Cuba and Korea, Pico-Union is, according to the Office of Historic Resources, a district of great ethnic and socioeconomic diversity with a mixture of single-family and multi-family housing. If you’re ever in LA and want to see the ‘hood — which was designated a historic district in 2004 — check out this self-guided walking tour.