MANHATTAN BEACH, California – The Bruce family is getting their ancestral home back.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Law 796 Thursday, authorizing Los Angeles County to return to the Bruces a number of parcels of land that were once a black-owned, black-friendly beachfront resort in Manhattan Beach.
What you need to know
- SB 796, written by Senator Steven Bradford, was approved by California Legislature in early September and received the unanimous endorsement of the LA County Board of Supervisors
- The Bruce family beach resort, then known as Bruce’s Lodge, opened in 1911
- As one of the few black-friendly beaches on the coast at the time, it became the centerpiece of a burgeoning black community in the fledgling South Bay of Los Angeles
- The land was reportedly developed into a park, although decades later a trustee recognized that the land seizure was “the meanest thing I have ever done”.
The original owners, Willa and Charles Bruce, were forced to sell the land to the City of Manhattan Beach in the late 1920s after the city took advantage of a significant area on racial grounds.
SB 796, written by Senator Steven Bradford, was approved by the California Legislature in early September and received unanimous support from the LA County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Janice Hahn, who counts Manhattan Beach among the cities she represents, believes the legislation could be a model for property restoration across the country.
“Now that LA County has official legal authority to transfer this property, my goal over the next several months will be to transfer this property in a way that not only works for the Bruce family, but is a model that others can use locally Governments can follow, “Hahn said in a statement. “The return of Bruce’s Beach can and should set a precedent for this nation, and I know that all eyes will be on Los Angeles County when this work gets underway.”
LA County acquired the land after a series of real estate deals that gave it control of the beach area. However, state law has so far restricted the transfer of public land to private companies. Currently, Bruce’s former property is an LA County lifeguard training center. Hahn has promised that she will apply on September 31st to accept an amended deed for the land from the state and continue the process of identifying the legal heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce.
The Bruce family beach resort, then known as Bruce’s Lodge, opened in 1911. One of the few black beaches on the coast at the time, it became the centerpiece of a burgeoning black community in the fledgling South Bay of Los Angeles. But visitors and residents were harassed, shops were targeted with laws, and properties were fired at with incendiary bombs.
In 1924, a resident petition prompted the city’s board of trustees (the forerunner of the modern city council) to condemn two entire blocks of land, including the Bruce parcels and the developed lots of four other black families, as well as a handful of vacant lots controlled by white landowners. The land was reportedly developed into a park, although decades later a trustee recognized that the land seizure was “the meanest thing I have ever done”.
Each of the landowners – including the Bruces and their black neighbors – have been paid for their land in accordance with the law. Each of the families eventually moved out of Manhattan Beach and the young black enclave was disbanded. To date, black residents make up 0.5% of the city’s population.
Amid the race reckoning in 2020, activists re-awakening to the park’s history began to agitate. Justice for Bruce’s Beach, founded by a Manhattan Beach resident Kavon Ward, helped with the indictment.
“This is one of the victories. This is the land restoration victory, but we still need to focus on getting the family reimbursement. The City of Manhattan Beach still needs to be accountable for what they did,” Ward told Spectrum News.
The City of Manhattan Beach has condemned the city’s past racist acts but has not issued a formal apology wholeheartedly. It is still unclear whether the other families whose land was taken over a significant domain will be returned by the city.
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