LA County taking first steps to return Bruce’s Beach property to descendants of original Black owners

'After so many tears we will right this injustice,' said California Senator Steven Bradford

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is looking to right a wrong in history to return a parcel of land belonging to a Black couple to their descendants after nearly a century.

Transferring portions of the land, which was condemned and seized by the city of Manhattan Beach, will require removing restrictions on the ground, which is now a lifeguard training center, ABC 7 reports

“I learned very quickly that I just can’t give the property back,” Hahn said in a news conference on Friday. “It came with restrictions, where it limited our ability to sell or transfer this property. So I need state legislation to lift these restrictions and allow the county to transfer this property.”

The monument plaque at Bruce’s Beach park in Manhattan Beach. (Spectrum News/David Mendez)

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Democratic Senator Steve Bradford of Gardena, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, is in support of the decision, saying, “I look forward to working with the county getting this legislation signed into law this year.”

Willa and Charles Bruce purchased two parcels in 1912 for $1,225 to build the first West Coast ocean-view resort as a result of segregation that barred many Black people from visiting beaches. Amongst the land was a lodge, cafe, dance hall, and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent that was known to the Black community as “Bruce’s Lodge.”

The lodge, however, became a target of racism with acts of vandalism, damaging the vehicles of Black visitors, and an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in 1920, according to ABC 7.

Charles and Willa Bruce – Pinterest

In 1929, increasing pressure led to the city condemning the property and its surrounding parcels. It seized it through eminent domain to build a city park, resulting in the Bruces and Black families in that community losing the land.

Despite lawsuits filed with claims of a racially motivated removal campaign to remove them and their property, the Bruces were awarded some damages. Still, they were unable to reopen their resort elsewhere in the city.

Hahn said the action not only robbed the Bruces but their descendants.

“Bruce’s Beach became a place where Black families traveled from far and wide to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a day at the beach,” Hahn said.

“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them and this was an injustice inflicted not just upon 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.”

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In 1948, the land was transferred to Los Angeles County and the state of California for beach operations and maintenance in 1995, according to ABC 13. Hahn said that the last transfer had restrictions that limited the ability to either sell or transfer the property and have the chance to be lifted through new state law. 

Descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce gathered in 2018 at Bruce’s Beach, in Manhattan Beach, for a family reunion.
(From Patricia Bruce-Carter)

After its seizure, the land remained vacant for decades, despite claims of creating a city park until 1960. According to the outlet, city officials feared that the evicted families would file lawsuits if the land wasn’t used for its intended purpose.

On Monday, Senator Bradford will introduce new legislation, SB 796 to exempt the land from the restrictions, saying, “After so many tears we will right this injustice.”

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