MANHATTAN BEACH (CBSLA) – A stretch of beachfront property in Manhattan Beach that was wrongfully seized from a Black family about 91-years-ago could soon be returned to them.
Several local political leaders held a news conference Friday morning to announce their efforts to transfer Bruce’s Beach back to the Bruce family. The effort is being spearheaded by L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn.
In 1912, the beachfront property at the Strand and 26th Street was purchased by Willa and Charles Bruce and used to build a beach resort to serve Black residents.
However, in 1929 the Manhattan Beach City Council seized the property citing eminent domain. The property was transferred to the state and then to L.A. County. It is now used as a park and as the L.A. County Lifeguard Training Centre.
Officials Friday announced a new state senate bill that would make it easier for the county to transfer the land back to the Bruce family. If passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, SB 796 would take effect immediately.
If the land went back to the Bruce family would also have the option to lease the land back to L.A. County, who would then pay rent.
“The Bruce family had their California dream stolen from them,” Hahn said Friday. “This was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce, but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep this property and their successful business. I strongly believe the right thing to do is for the County to return this property to the Bruce family.”
Hahn also plans to introduce a motion at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting on April 20 that would effort the return of the land to the Bruce family.
This comes after the Manhattan Beach City Council Tuesday night adopted a resolution acknowledging and condemning the city’s actions of a century ago involving Bruce’s Beach. But the resolution did not include an apology to the family. The council did agree to install new historical markers at the site.
In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the land for $1,225. They eventually added some other parcels and created a beach resort catering to Black residents, who had few options at the time for enjoying time along the California coast.
But the resort quickly became a target of the area’s white populace, leading to acts of vandalism, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Bruces were undeterred and continued operating their small enclave, but under increasing pressure, the city condemned their property and other surrounding parcels in 1929, seizing it through eminent domain under the pretense of planning to build a city park.
The resort was forced out of business, and the Bruces and other Black families lost their land.
The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign. The Bruces were eventually awarded some damages, as were other displaced families. But the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.
Despite the city claiming the land was needed for a city park, the property sat vacant for decades. It was not until 1960 that a park was built on a portion of the seized land, with city officials fearing the evicted families could take new legal action if the property wasn’t used for the purpose for which it was seized.
The city park has borne a variety of names over the years. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park “Bruce’s Beach” in honor of the evicted family. That honor, however, has been derided by critics as a hollow gesture toward the family.
Anthony Bruce, a descendant of Willa and Charles, told the Los Angeles Times last year that the beach is his family’s “legacy,” and its fate “has haunted my family for ages.”
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)