MANHATTAN BEACH (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to return Bruce’s Beach, a parcel of oceanfront property along the sandy shores of Manhattan Beach seized from a Black couple nearly a century ago, to descendants of the couple.
Acting on a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the board voted both to direct the county’s CEO to come up with a plan to return the property to the family, and to sponsor Senate Bill 796, legislation required to make the transfer possible.
“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,” Hahn said in a statement. When I realized that the county now had ownership of the Bruce’s original property, I felt there was nothing else to do but give the property back to the direct descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.”
The land, just north of the Manhattan Beach Pier, was once owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, a young Black couple. Back in 1912, they purchased the land at the Strand and 26th Street and opened Bruce’s Lodge — the first resort on the West Coast that served Black Americans.
However, in a time of segregation, the business did not sit well with the predominantly white neighborhood, and later the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1929, the city of Manhattan Beach took the land using eminent domain, and the property sat vacant for decades before eventually being given to the state and ultimately to L.A. County, which turned it into a city park.
Bruce’s Beach is now home to the L.A. County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. But a decades-long push to return the property to the Bruce family came to a head earlier this month, when Supervisor Janice Hahn unveiled a plan to do just that.
When L.A. County acquired the property from the state, it came with restrictions on how ownership can and cannot be transferred. SB 796 would remove the restrictions and allow the Bruce family to reclaim ownership of the land.
“Sadly, the Bruce story is not unique here in California or across this nation,” Sen. Steve Bradford, D-Gardena, said earlier this month during a news conference with Hahn.
Bradford, who is the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has championed the bill in Sacramento.
“Hopefully all of us here can begin to right a wrong that happened 100 years ago,” Hahn said in an April 9 news conference.
On April 6, the Manhattan Beach City Council 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.
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.
During Hahn’s announcement, a family spokesperson said he hoped returning the land would help repair the damage his family has suffered.
“We want restoration of our land, restitution for the loss of enterprise and punitive damages,” Duane Shepherd, the Bruce family historian, said.
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.”
If the plan is approved, the county will have 60 days to create a timeline for the land transfer and determine whether or not the lifeguard station will have to move. While many details remain, county leaders see this as a chance to right a century-old wrong.
“I feel like the only thing we can do is to return it,” Hahn said.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)