Signal Hill Gets New Library

By Claudine Burnett

Fifty years ago it was hard to find Signal Hill’s public library. The catacomb library was hidden deep beneath the city’s 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.

 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 childrens’ 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.

 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 Twenty-first and Cherry. 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. 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 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 on Signal Hill history).

 The 14,000 square foot new library is scheduled to open August 10, 2019, at 1800 E. Hill Street. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m. The temporary library closed July 27 to prepare for the move.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claudine Burnett is the author of 11 books relating to Long Beach and Southern California as well as a contributor to the book The Heritage of African Americans in Long Beach. More about the author, her books, and published blogs can be found on her website


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