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

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

Bruce’s Beach, a scenic portion of land that was wrongfully seized from a Black family nearly a century ago, could soon be returned to its rightful owners, Los Angeles County leaders said Friday.

The beachfront property is located along the Pacific Ocean south of Los Angeles. It was seized from Willa and Charles Bruce in 1929.

The couple purchased the land for $1,225 in 1912, according to the Los Angeles Times. 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 Bruce property became a target of angry White residents, leading to vandalism and a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

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Under pressure from White residents at the time, the local government condemned the property and other surrounding parcels of land in 1929, and took control of it through eminent domain.

Local leaders claimed they planned to open a public park at the location. Although decades passed before the park finally became a reality.

During Friday’s announcement, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the county has taken steps to return the land to the descendants of the Bruce family.

“When I realized that the county of Los Angeles now had ownership of the Bruces’ original property, I wanted to do what I could to start righting this wrong,” Hahn said. “I felt there was nothing else to do but to give the property back to the direct descendants Willa and Charles Bruce.”

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Fellow Supervisor Holly Mitchell added that the Bruce family was “robbed” and the property should be returned.

In recent years, the extended Bruce family sued saying they were the victims of a racially motivated eviction campaign. The Bruces and other displaced Black families were eventually rewarded damages, but the land was never returned.

In the 1950s, the city of Manhattan Beach — where the land is located — started the process of opening a park, which now sits on the site.

After calls for answers, the city agreed in 2006 to rename the park “Bruce’s Beach” in honor of the evicted family. There’s a plaque in the area dedicated to the Bruce family.

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Still, critics said that wasn’t enough and started an online petition calling for restitution to the Bruce family and a larger memorial on the land.

“Naming the park ‘Bruce’s Beach’ is not enough to undo the city’s role in shoving the Bruce family out of the city and discouraging other minority families from taking up residence in the community,’ the petition says. “We demand the city restore the land to the Bruce family, and provide restitution for loss of revenue for 95 years and monetary damages for the wanton violation of their civil rights.”

Manhattan Beach now has a population of 35,000 people. It’s about 80 percent White and less than one percent Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Transferring ownership of the Bruce’s Beach land, which currently houses L.A. County’s lifeguard training center, requires state approval.

A bill will be introduced by state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) on Monday in the California legislature, as part of the effort to return the land.

Hahn said Friday the county is in talks with the Bruce family to discuss leasing back part of the land, once it’s returned to the family, to keep the county’s lifeguard center in place.

The image above is courtesy of Shutterstock.

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