A look at bygone days | April 13, 2018

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Today, Signal Hill is building a brand-new library scheduled to open in May 2019 and supported by an active group of “Friends.” But few realize that it owes its existence to Mrs. Mary Maud Trodd.

In honor of April 8-14 being National Library Week, and as a tribute to the Signal Hill Library and its employees, here is the story of how the library began and the city’s first librarian.

Mary and three of her four children settled on Signal Hill shortly after her husband Fredrick died in 1913. She had married the 35-year-old widower, who had a 9-year-old son, in 1894. The following year the family, which now included baby daughter Violet, immigrated from England to the United States. Fred was a blacksmith, and the family moved around quite a bit before they settled in California. It was hard for Mary to get to know people since her husband was always looking for a better place to live and work. Books and reading became Mary’s friends. Wherever they moved, Mary found a library to educate not only herself but her growing family, which now included son Victor born in 1897 in Indiana and son Verner born in Oklahoma in 1904.

Her stepson William stepped into his father’s shoes after Fred’s death, convincing his mother to move the family from Compton to Signal Hill. He found a house for them to live in located at 1919 Hill St. The home was close to Mary’s daughter Violet, who had married, and not far from William’s job as a machinist. Their new neighbors included Masaichi Shibata, a fruit and vegetable seller, and his family, and the Jutoro Kido family, who farmed Signal Hill.

File photo
Mary Maud Trodd at work

Before the city was founded on April 24, 1924, Mrs. Todd used the Burnett Library in Long Beach, but when Signal Hill became a city, Mary campaigned for its own public library. The city, surrounded by oil wells and hidden speakeasies, needed a little culture, Mary Trodd believed. She went before the city council and asked that they organize a library. They just laughed and said, “Who would read books in Signal Hill? Nobody here is interested in anything but oil.”

Trodd replied by telling them, “Plenty of people would read books if they had the books and a place to read them.”

She approached W. E. Hinshaw, who had just built a brick building at 21st and Cherry, and asked him to give her a room rent-free for a library. He agreed.
With space for a library guaranteed, she managed to cajole the city council into giving her $30 for shelving. She then went from door to door collecting magazines and books. The library, with its few shelves of books, opened in March 1926.

At the time Mary Trodd’s story was told in the Press-Telegram, in August 1941, she still had a yellowed record showing that the total book circulation of March, April and May of 1926 was 26 books. She worked without salary until 1929, when she was given $10 per month. It was eventually raised to $50 a month, and by 1941 it was considerably higher.

Courtesy Claudine Burnett
The old library at 1770 E. Hill St.

The library eventually expanded, placed on the top floor of Signal Hill’s new City Hall at 2175 Cherry, in 1934. The new building replaced the original City Hall at 2120 Cherry, which didn’t fare well in the March 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Seventy-two-year-old Mrs. Trodd still worked at the library when interviewed by the Press-Telegram in 1941. She proudly told reporters the library now had 4,000 books and regularly received 35 magazines and three newspapers. Monthly circulation averaged 625 volumes. She knew— she kept her own records. She didn’t need a secretary.

Mary Maud Chandler Trodd continued working as Signal Hill librarian until shortly before her death on Dec. 6, 1943, at age 74. The woman who so loved books was living with her widowed stepson William Trodd, still in Signal Hill, at a house at 1287 23rd St. Her other sons and daughter lived nearby. There were no Japanese neighbors. What few remained after oil was discovered had been placed in “relocation” camps because of the war.

File photo
Signal Hill’s temporary City Hall after the 1933 earthquake

Mary would be very happy to learn the old library at 1770 E. Hill St., located in the city’s former 1931 fire station, is being replaced. The small steps she had taken to create the Signal Hill Public Library have paid off.

Finally, Signal Hill will have a library in a brand-new building, all its own, thanks in no small part to Mary Maude Chandler Trodd’s dream.

Burnett is a former Long Beach librarian who, during her 25 years of researching local history, has uncovered many forgotten stories about Southern California that she has published in nine books. She has degrees from UC Irvine, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach. For more information, visit claudineburnettbooks.com.