LA County considering returning land to descendants of Bruce’s Beach

The descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce may soon own the land again after their family lost it almost a century ago.

A once Black-owned beach and resort community in Los Angeles County may soon be returned to it’s rightful owners.

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Burce’s Beach, owned by Charles and Willa Bruce in the early 1900s, may be granted to their descendants. NBC Los Angeles reported the LA County supervisor, Janice Hahn, hopes to correct a long-standing issue by returning the property.

“The property that was once the Bruce’s is now owned by the County, and I want LA County to be part of righting this wrong,” said Hahn in a statement according to NBC Los Angeles. “I am looking at everything from repurposing the property in a way that tells the history of Bruce’s Beach to actually giving the property back to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.”

Bruce's Beach
(Credit: Getty Images)

theGrio reported back in August, the racist history of how LA County acquired Bruce’s Beach was exposed due to a resurgence in interest sparked by Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. The property, purchased by the Bruce family in 1912, was a destination for Black families to come and live and enjoy the area.

The Bruce family was met with backlash from the Ku Klux Klan who set fire to a mattress near the beach and to a home owned by Black people.  The racist group also targeted visitors with fake signs claiming there was a 10-minute parking limit, making visitors walk over half-a-mile through unfriendly neighborhoods to get to their desired destination.

Eventually, after resisting efforts made by the KKK, the family lost the beach to Los Angeles. Officials took over the beach in 1924 and seized over two dozen properties through eminent domain. They claimed they needed the area for a public park and. the Bruces and other families sued, claiming racial discrimination.

“Bruce’s Beach was an injustice in our town’s history,” said Gary McAulay, president of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society according to the report.“The facts are tragic enough, but in the nearly 100 years since then, the facts have often been corrupted in the retelling.”

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According to NBC Los Angeles, by By 1929, the Bruce’s and the other families received small settlements which were worth less than what their land is worth today.  Currently, the area owned by the family is the location of a lifeguard headquarters.

The park created up the street was renamed  “Bruce’s Beach” when the area when  Mitch Ward, became Manhattan Beach’s first Black mayor in the 2000s however, some were not satisfied by the gesture. Family members expressed the need for the story to be told accurately, not just commemorated with a plaque.

“The first thing we need to get right is the information about the plaque. We need to make sure the plaque tells the exact story about what happened,” said Anthony Bruce, the last living direct descendent of the Willa and Charles Bruce according to the news outlet. “That was our property. And they removed it with eminent domain, which was pretty much like using the law to pretty much commit a crime.”

He continued, “Remember, this is the entrepreneur family of the Bruce’s here. So if we don’t get the money, all we need is the land back anyway. In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we know that all men are created equal, so that’s what we’re looking for. We’re just looking for justice for our family.”

Manhattan Beach, Bruce's Beach, Black history
An aerial view of the closed and deserted beach on Ind“The first thing we need to get right is the information about the plaque. We need to make sure the plaque tells the exact story about what happened,” said Anthony Bruce, the last living direct descendent of the Willa and Charles Bruce. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The task force, created of 15 people. is expected to present its recommendations for future decisions in the ownership of Bruce’s Beach to the city council later this year. The group has faced criticism for the number of Black members and not being directly involved with the Bruce family and their desires.

Resident Kavon Ward, who has helped spread awareness on the history as well as current social justice issues, is one who has critiqued the task force. She hopes the past wrongs are made right for the Bruce family.

“Initially, there were folks who I started the group with who wanted the plaque to be changed, and that’s great right, the plaque should be changed and the truth should be known, but for me that wasn’t taking it far enough,” Ward said to NBC Los Angeles. “This land was stolen from the family. There’s knowledge of it and so the land needs to be given back to the family.”

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