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Romayne Martin: Building a Cultured Community

Romayne MartinAt the first Palos Verdes Community Dinner in 1926, Frank Vanderlip, considered the father of Palos Verdes, emphasized the importance of building a cultured community.

Romayne Martin (1889-1991), one of the Peninsula's earliest residents, had a large part in shaping this vibrant local culture. This included two of its oldest and most treasured institutions: the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District and the Palos Verdes Library District.

Martin moved to California from the east coast in 1923 when her husband Farnham Martin, a landscape architect with the Olmsted Brothers design firm, became the Superintendent of Parks with the Palos Verdes Project.

With two elementary age schoolchildren and a desire to give them as fine an education as she had, Martin began lobbying for a school almost immediately.

In 1925, she convinced the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools to establish the Palos Verdes School District. Until then, children attended school in Redondo Beach.

Arguing that a good school would draw families to the developing Peninsula, Martin persuaded the Palos Verdes Project to support building the Malaga Cove School. The Project lauded Martin, noting the school "owes much of its present high rank among elementary schools to her untiring and capable efforts."

In 1961, the district became the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, offering K-12 education. It continues to rank as one of the state's outstanding districts.

Martin's efforts to bring a library to the Peninsula grew directly out of her work for the school. She envisioned a room filled with magazines and books that students could enjoy once they finished their schoolwork.

"A youngster who reads a lot never has to wonder what he is going to do with his time," Martin said.

In 1926, she helped bring a branch library of the Los Angeles County Free Library Service to the Peninsula. Two years later, she was instrumental in passing a petition which created the current Palos Verdes Library District, an independent, locally governed library district separate from Los Angeles County.

It wasn't just a district Martin lobbied for. She convinced residents to approve a bond to build and furnish the Malaga Cove Library.

Martin sought out and worked with well-known architect Myron Hunt to create a library with an "invitational look." In her oral history, Martin relates, "I would like a place where we could have parties downstairs; I would like a room for children where they are completely away from the grownups; I'd like an open fireplace and I would like a place that would look homelike."

Walking through the recently restored Malaga Cove Library, a 10-year project that ended earlier this year, one realizes Martin's vision some 87 years ago is alive and well today.

Martin's contributions go beyond the school and the library. She was a founding member of the Palos Verdes Woman's Club, and taught dance classes to the Peninsula's children. She drilled them in the minuet for the "Colonial Ball," an annual community dance to celebrate the country's history, in which children dressed in colonial costumes.

She was also a charter member of the Dickens Club of Palos Verdes. An affiliate of the Dickens Fellowship Society in London, England, the group promoted the appreciation of Charles Dickens and his campaign against "social evils." The Palos Verdes chapter held monthly meetings with readings of classic Dickens works, and regularly celebrated his birthday.

Martin's impact on the cultural and social development of the Palos Verdes Peninsula was profound. Her tireless efforts some 95 years ago laid the foundation for the quality institutions that help make the Peninsula a special place today.

By Monique Sugimoto and Dennis Piotrowski

Monique Sugimoto and Dennis Piotrowski are Adult Services Librarians at the Palos Verdes Library District

Originally published in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News on November 30, 2017.