City snatched Silas White’s beachfront land 66 years ago, descendants seek its return

Where Is My Land founder Kavon Ward, who succeeded in persuading Los Angeles County to return Bruce's Beach to descendants of the Bruce family, told White's family what happened to his land.

It’s a tale as old as time – a city using eminent domain to snatch land from a Black family.

According to NBC Los Angeles, descendants of Silas White, a Black entrepreneur who purchased land at Ocean Avenue and Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California, in 1957, are on a quest for justice.

White purchased the land and the former Elks Lodge building that sat on it, only two blocks from the beach, planning to create the Ebony Beach Club, a gathering place for Black residents in the area to mingle and network at a time when such establishments were scarce.

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Connie White (above) and other relatives of Silas White are on a quest for justice and the return of his land, which was taken from him by the city of Santa Monica, California, nearly 70 years ago. (Photo Credit: NBC Los Angeles)

However, the city took the property a year later and eventually demolished the building that was on it.

“They claim that the reason they took it was because it was needed for a public parking lot,” said White’s niece Milana Davis. “But eight years after they took it from him, it was suddenly found to be the perfect spot for a first-class four-star hotel.”

White’s land has been buried beneath the Viceroy Hotel, owned by the city of Santa Monica, for decades. As part of a long-term leasing deal, the city receives rent from the hotel.

Davis said she’s gone through disbelief at how the city seized the property and what her uncle endured.

White’s story was nearly forgotten when he passed away in 1962, only four years after the city had taken his property and his aspirations.

For decades, the family was unaware of what occurred — then Where Is My Land stepped in.

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Kavon Ward started the organization to track down instances of Black landowners losing their property across the nation. Ward also founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach, which was successful in its efforts to persuade Los Angeles County to give the oceanfront property back to the Bruce family, whose land was confiscated by the city of Manhattan Beach through eminent domain in the 1920s.

Ward and the White family recently met with Santa Monica City Manager David White and Councilwoman Caroline Torosis, who was the only one of the seven council members present.

Although it’s unclear how much support the council has for giving the land back to the White family, Torosis stated that the city is working on drafting an equity plan that involves investigating options for restitution and reparations.

“We don’t want apologies. We don’t want another plaque,” said Ward, who is now focusing her efforts on the White family’s case. “And if you do provide that, we want that in conjunction with true justice, which is a land return and compensation for decades of wealth lost.”

The city of Santa Monica issued a statement stating that it actively seeks acceptable and workable remedies in addition to hearing and acknowledging the community’s views. 

“We know that for those who have been wronged by the city’s past discriminatory practices, justice can’t come soon enough, and we take what we’ve learned from the families and individuals who have been harmed by these acts very seriously,” the statement read, NBC reported. “We are a better city because of their continued attention to these issues and we are committed to getting this right.”

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