LA County Votes to Return Bruce’s Beach Property Seized From Black Family

Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach, California. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Nearly a century after a beachfront property in California was seized from a Black family through eminent domain, Los Angeles County leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to return the land — known as Bruce’s Beach — to descendants of the couple it was taken from in 1929.

The vote by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors means ownership of the scenic land, along the Pacific Ocean south of Los Angeles, will be transferred from the county government to the great grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn helped spearhead the process of returning the land and applauded Tuesday’s vote.

“We are finally here today,” Hahn said during the board meeting. “We can’t change the past, and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago. But this is a start, and it is the right thing to do.”

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Charles and Willa Bruce (Credit: City of Manhattan Beach)
City of Manhattan Beach

The motion to return the land was authored by Hahn and Holly Mitchell, chair of the Board of Supervisors. The motion said the property had recently been appraised and is worth about $20 million.

Once transferred, the county will rent the land from the Bruce family for $413,000 a year and maintain a lifeguard facility there. As part of the leasing agreement, the county has a right to buy the land later for a purchase price not to exceed $20 million, the board motion says.

Willa Bruce purchased the land for $1,225 in 1912. The family opened a beach resort, café and dance hall for Black residents, who were not welcome at White-owned resorts along the California coast because of segregation.

But the property became a target of angry White residents, leading to vandalism and a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan. Under pressure from White residents at the time, the local government condemned the property and other surrounding parcels of land and in 1929, took control of it through eminent domain.

Tuesday’s Board motion said: “The City of Manhattan Beach demolished the Bruces’ resort, and the Bruces left Manhattan Beach.”

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In the 1950s, the City of Manhattan Beach started the process of opening a park, which now sits on the site.

For decades, Bruce family descendants fought to get the land back.

In 2021, state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) introduced a bill in the California legislature, as part of the effort to return the land. The bill was eventually approved by both chambers of the legislature and on Sept. 30, 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 796 into law.

Manhattan Beach now has a population of about 35,000 people. The wealthy enclave is 76 percent White and less than one percent Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Supervisor Hahn said Tuesday’s vote will allow the Bruce family “to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them.”

The image above is courtesy of Shutterstock.