Los Angeles

Vote expected to return Bruce’s Beach to Black family who owned property in 1920s

Los Angeles County officials are set to return a popular stretch of land in Manhattan Beach to a Black family that owned the property nearly a century ago, when it was forcefully taken from them.

The vote, which is expected to take place Tuesday morning, comes on the heels of an extensive process of legislative approvals, which included Governor Gavin Newsom. The decision will formally grant the land back to the descendants of the Bruce family. 

Willa and Charles Bruce had initially purchased the land back in 1912 for a little over $1,200. Over the years, they developed the property into a seaside beach resort for other Black families, who at the time were not allowed at other beaches. The resort included a bath house, a dance hall and a cafe amongst other conveniences. 

They owned the land until 1924, when it was seized by local government under the guise of eminent domain. The city condemned the surrounding areas under the pretense of building a park in the area. The family had been targeted by acts of vandalism, including attacks on visitor’s vehicles and an attack by the Ku Klux Klan. 

Despite this, the Bruces attempted to remain afloat until 1929 when they were forced out of business. They, along with other Black families in the area, were awarded some damages, after suing on the basis that they removed on a racially motivated campaign.

The lot, which is located on Highland Avenue near 26th Street, sat vacant for nearly 40 years, until a park was finally built in 1960. In 1995, the land was transferred to the state of California and then to Los Angeles County. City officials opted to rename the area Bruce’s Beach in 2006, after changing names on several occasions. 

“At long last, the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce will be able to begin rebuilding the wealth that has been denied to generations of Bruces since their property was seized nearly a century ago,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who championed the motion to return the land to the Bruce family. “We will never be able to rectify the injustice that was inflicted upon the Bruce family, but this is a start, and it is the right thing to do.”

Her push for the property’s return began in early 2021 when she still oversaw the area. But after Los Angeles County’s recent redistricting, it now sits in Board of Supervisors chair Holly Mitchell’s district.

“This land should have never been taken from the Bruce family over 90 years ago,” she said. “Now, we are on the precipice of redemption and justice that is long overdue.”

The agreement, which is expected to be agreed upon, will return the land to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of Willa and Charles. They will lease the land back to L.A. County at $413,000 a year so that county lifeguard facilities at the site can continue operation. Other terms in the agreement also dictate that the family can sell the property back to the county for no more than $20 million.

In order to properly transfer the property, a change in state law that allowed the county to transfer ownership was required. Additionally, county officials had to identify the Bruce family heirs and settle the various financial implications of transferring the property.

“The county has done its due diligence to confirm the legal heirs and engage them in reaching an agreement for returning the land,” Mitchell continued in a statement released last week. “The directives in this motion make the return of the land to the Bruce family heirs possible and will allow the Bruce family to realize the generational wealth previously denied them. Although we cannot change the past, we have a responsibility to learn from it and to do what is right today. Now it is on the county to get this done. I look forward to standing with my colleagues on the right side of history.”

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