On Friday, State Senator Steven Bradford (D-CA, Gardena) reintroduced a bill to the California State Legislature that would pave the way for the City of Manhattan Beach to return ownership of coveted oceanside property to the descendants of its former owners, Willa and Charles Bruce.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Bruces originally purchased the land in 1912 and ran a cafe, dance hall and lodge on the oceanfront lots to provide resort space and activities to African Americans, and the area started being called “Bruce’s Beach.”
To quote the LA Times:
But white neighbors resented the resort’s popularity. Tires were slashed. The Ku Klux Klan purportedly set fire to a mattress under the main deck and torched a Black-owned home nearby.
When harassment failed to drive the Bruce’s Beach community out of town, city officials in 1924 condemned the neighborhood and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domain. The reason, they said, was an urgent need for a public park.
The Bruces sought $70,000 for their two beachfront properties and $50,000 in damages. They received $14,500.
For decades, the properties sat empty. The Bruce parcels were transferred to the state in 1948, then to the county in 1995. A county lifeguard center occupies the land today. As for the remaining lots, city officials eventually turned them into a park, worried that family members might sue to regain their land unless it was used for the purpose for which it had been originally taken.
Though a plaque designating the and renaming the park area as “Bruce’s Beach” was erected in 2007, this symbolic acknowledgment ]did not address the underlying issues of injustice and racism at the core of why “eminent domain” was invoked by the local government to strip the Bruce’s of their property.
In recent years there has been a grassroots effort to bring the full history of Bruce’s Beach to light as well as a push towards reparations for the Bruce family.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, upon hearing the story of what happened to the Bruces‘, joined with other local and state representatives such as Senator Bradford (who is part of CA’s reparations task force) to push for the City of Manhattan Beach to return ownership of the property to the Bruce’s descendants under a plan that would allow the city to lease it from them.
The legislation introduced Friday is a big step towards making the ownership transfer a reality. The bill, if passed, will allow Los Angeles County, which currently runs a lifeguard center on the site, to transfer the property to the Bruce family. State legislation is needed to lift the restriction that the state placed on the property when it transferred the two parcels to L.A. County in 1995.
“We stand here today to introduce a bill that will correct this gross injustice and allow the land to be returned to the Bruce family,” Bradford said Friday. “It is my hope that this legislation will not be the last in a series of actions by the state to address centuries of atrocious actions against Black Americans.”
Bruce’s Beach: Is a plaque enough to address Manhattan Beach’s history, repay Black ancestors’ loss?
LA County moves towards reparations for Bruce’s Beach
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