Los Angeles Beachfront Property May Return To Black Family After Decades Of Racism

Los Angeles county officials may return a beachfront property that was seized from a Black family nearly a century ago.

Manhattan Beach used eminent domain in 1924 to force Willa and Charles Bruce, the city’s first Black landowners, off the land where they lived, KABC-TV reported on Friday. The Bruces also ran a resort for Black families during a time when beaches in the strand were segregated.

Bruce's Beach is a park in Manhattan Beach with a racist history.

Part of the land was developed into a city park. It is now owned by Los Angeles county and houses lifeguard headquarters and a training center. The property was condemned in in 1924,  and later claimed the property through eminent domain. 

The county supervisor Janice Hahn said she was exploring options to restore justice for the family, including giving the land back, paying for what they lost or leasing the property from them so the lifeguard building can remain at the location.

“I wanted the county of Los Angeles to be a part of righting this terrible wrong,” Hahn told the station.

Meanwhile, a Manhattan Beach city taskforce is recommending that the city council consider issuing an apology and creating a commemorative plaque to acknowledge the Bruce family.

Anthony Bruce, one of the family’s last living direct descendants, now living in Florida, said the seizure robbed him of his family’s legacy.

Recounting his family’s story in a letter to the California Coastal Commission, their grandson, Bernard Bruce, wrote, “My grandparents moved here from New Mexico. They worked on the railroad. They saved their money…. They lost everything when the city took Bruce’s Beach. How would you feel if your family owned the Waldorf and they took it away from you?”

“It was a wrong against the Bruce family,” he said. “I think we would be wealthy Americans still living there in California … Manhattan Beach, probably.”

“Bruce’s Beach was an injustice in our town’s history,” said Gary McAulay, president of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society. “The facts are tragic enough, but in the nearly 100 years since then, the facts have often been corrupted in the retelling.”

The story of Bruce’s Beach begins with the Tongva, who roamed the dunes and gathered seafood along this windy stretch of coast. Then came the Spanish, and by the early 1900s, George Peck and others developed what is known today as Manhattan Beach.

The Black matriarch Willa Bruce purchased Bruce’s Beach for $1,225 in 1912.  The first purchase by an African American  the Strands between 26th and 27th streets. Her husband Charles, worked as a dining-car chef on the train running between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, and Willa operated a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall, that served African Americans–called Bruce’s Lodge, but later renamed Bruce’s Beach.

“Manhattan Beach had virtually no minority population, and it remained that way for a long, long time,” says local historian Jan Dennis.

Bruce’s Beach history The story of Bruce’s Beach begins with the Tongva, who roamed the dunes and gathered seafood along this windy stretch of coast. Then came the Spanish, and by the early 1900s, George Peck and others developed what is known today as Manhattan Beach.

Source: Guardian and LA Times contributed to the article.

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