Small steps to achieve a 93-year-old dream

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Fifty years ago it was hard to find Signal Hill’s public library. The catacomb library was hidden deep beneath City Hall. It was the smallest municipally-owned library in Los Angeles County, and perhaps the entire nation.

Head librarian, and only full time employee, Mrs. Kathleen Brady found the neat cellar library with its 13,500 books a much better place than when she came to work for the city in 1962. Then the library occupied a small 800 square foot room which could house about 4,000 books on the second floor of City Hall. The move to the larger quarters in 1965 not only increased the number of books the library could hold to 20,000, but also saw an increase in patronage. In 1967-68 a total of 13,594 books were checked out by local residents. It also became a place to study with its brightly lit rooms, polished floors and catacomb-like atmosphere.

Courtesy City of Signal Hill
From 1934 to 1978, Signal Hill City Hall housed the library, initially on the second floor, later the basement.

The “new” basement library, however, wasn’t what the city had hoped for. In January 1964 Mayor William F. Mendenhall announced plans for a $300,000 circular new library building to be erected on city property on the west side of Hill Street, west of the fire station. The newly formed Signal Hill Rotary Club had pledged to collect all the money to construct the 25,000 book classic style library through public subscription. An architect had prepared preliminary plans for the 2-story 13,317 square-foot library which would be circular and completely enclosed in glass, with an interior patio. The children’s library would be on the ground floor, along with a vault, audio visual room, bindery and storage area. A play area for the youngsters would be conveniently located on the first floor. Plans called for the library to have an entry bridge off Hill Street leading into the main lobby on the second floor. There one would find the adult section, an office, book stacks, magazine racks and reading tables. Parking space was to be at the rear of the property.

This “new” library was not to be. The public library remained in the basement until December 1978 when it moved into the old city fire station. The obsolete fire building had been renovated as part of a $1.5 million urban renewal project that also brought the city a new police station.

Rendering of the new 2019 Signal Hill Public Library located at 1800 E. Hill St.

Signal Hill will finally have a new library 93 years after Mary Maude Chandler Trodd convinced W. E. Hinshaw to give her a room, rent free, for a library in his new brick building at 21st and Cherry. With space for a library guaranteed, she managed to cajole the Signal Hill 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. The library eventually expanded, placed on the top floor of Signal Hill’s new city hall at 2175 Cherry in 1934, later moving to the basement in 1965, and an old fire station in 1978. Mary would be very happy to learn 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.

For more on Mary Trodd and the creation of the Signal Hill Public Library, read my June 2017 blog entry at historicalsignalhill.blogspot.com.

The 14,000 square-foot new library is scheduled to open Aug. 10, 2019, at 1800 E. Hill Street. Festivities begin at 11am and continue until 4pm. The temporary library has already closed to prepare for the move.