LA council votes unanimously in favor of returning land to Black family who had it seized in 1924
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to return Bruce’s Beach to the black family who owned it until it was unfairly seized by California 98 years ago.
The move marks one of the biggest cases of land reparations in US history.
Brothers Marcus and Derrick, along with Derrick’s sons Anthony and Michael, will now inherit the piece of prime beachfront land worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The brother’s great grandparents, Charles and Willa Bruce, bought the land in 1912 and built a resort for black families that became known as Bruce’s Beach.
The resort thrived despite racist pressure from neighbors, local government and an attack from the Ku Klux Klan in 1920.
But in 1924, the family was forced out when the City of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to seize the land under the pretense of building a public park.
In a statement on Tuesday’s vote, County Chair Holly Mitchell said that the Bruce family were ‘robbed of their property and generational wealth due to unjust laws and practices rooted in systemic racism.’
The board heard that Anthony will maintain the property along with his father through an LLC that the family has formed.
County Chair Holly Mitchell signs the transfer agreement on behalf of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors transferring ownership of the land to the Bruce family
Michael Bruce (pictured left) and his brother Anthony (pictured right) are the great-great grandchildren of Willa and Charles Bruce, who stand to finally inherit their family’s property after it was taken via eminent domain in 1924
Willa and Charles Bruce brought the property in 1912 during the early 20th century after moving from New Mexico with their son Harvey
The Los Angeles beachfront property ‘Bruce’s Beach’s is being returned to the descendants of resort owners after it was taken from them due to racist policies
According to the motion, the land will be leased back to the county for two years from the Bruce family. The family will received $413,000 in rent. After the two year lease is up, the Bruce family is free to do whatever they please with the land.
The new motion also has a clause allowing the country to buy back the land from the Bruce family for $20 million.
In February 2022, the Los Angeles Times quoted that the estimated price of the land parcels that belonged to the Bruce family were now worth an estimated $75 million.
According to the motion, the $20 million price tag was ‘confirmed by appraisals to be equivalent to or less than the fair market value.’
Mitchell rejected the notion that the county was ‘giving’ the property to the family. She said: ‘We are returning property that was erroneously, and based on fear and hate, taken from them.’
The area of land in affluent Manhattan Beach on the outskirts of Los Angeles was a ‘refuge for Black families who came from across the state when racist laws wouldn’t allow for any other safe beach going options,’ Mitchell said in her statement.
While County Supervisor Janice Hahn said: ‘We can’t change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start.’
The county will lease the land from the Bruce family two years at a cost of $413,000 per year. The county also has the option to purchase the land for $20 million
Anthony Bruce, the great great grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce is all smiles as Governor Gavin Newsom signs SB 796, a bill allowing the return Manhattan Beach land to descendants of its original owners
Instead of continuing to run a thriving resort on prime beachfront land, they ended up as chefs serving other business owners for the remainder of their lives
Hahn said in her statement that Tuesday’s vote will give the Bruce family the chance ‘to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them.’
The plot currently serves as a grassy park and lifeguard training facility.
Average property prices in Manhattan Beach run to $2.9 million, with the area sitting south of Santa Monica Bay.
In September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 796 into law. This removed any restrictions in returning the law of the board of supervisors voted to do so.
Also that month the city of Manhattan Beach issued a statement acknowledging and condemning its city’s actions from the early 20th century – but the statement stopped short of a formal apology.
‘We offer this Acknowledgement and Condemnation as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years,’ a document approved by the council says.
‘And the actions we will take together, to the best of our abilities, in deeds and in words, to reject prejudice and hate and promote respect and inclusion.’
In signing Senate Bill 796, Newsom offered a formal apology to the Bruce family.
He said: ‘As governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologize to the Bruce family.’
The governor added: ‘What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else. There’s an old adage: Once a mind is stretched, it never goes back to its original form.’
Anthony Bruce, a security supervisor who lives in Florida, said his family had been tormented by the seizure of their rightful property for generations.
Charles and Willa contested the eminent domain order and lost; the city paid them $14,500, and they left their beach and lost their business.
Instead of continuing to run a thriving resort on prime beachfront land, they ended up as chefs serving other business owners for the remainder of their lives.
Bruce’s Beach was a popular destination for black families in the early 20th century who were looking to go on a vacation without the stress of racial tensions
The resort featured a lodge, café, dance hall and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent
Bruce’s grandfather Bernard, born a few years after his family had been run out of town, was obsessed with what happened and lived his life ‘extremely angry at the world,’ he said.
Bruce’s father was unable to bear living in California and moved away from the state.
‘I was five years old when my father told me that my great-great-grandparents’ business on a beautiful stretch of Manhattan Beach had been taken away from them decades earlier,’ wrote Bruce, in an op ed in The Los Angeles Times, published on Thursday.
‘It was a shocking and disturbing revelation for me as a young boy.’
‘When I was growing up, my father took us to Bruce’s beach,’ Anthony said in an April interview with BNC News.
‘It wasn’t called that back then, it was called another name and he said ‘all this land is yours. I want you to know that this is your inheritance and you’re going to have to fight for it. As it stands its not ours, but as it is its our legacy.”
The case was championed by Kavon Ward, an activist who learnt about the land’s history and founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach.
‘This country always likes to say: ‘You can make it. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” she said.
‘These people were doing that, and they were building community and spreading the wealth within the community and enhancing other black people, and it was all stripped away.’
Anthony Bruce said in the op ed: ‘I’ll never know if my family’s business would have grown to rival that of Hilton or Marriott, both of which were founded around the same time as Bruce’s Beach and grew from equally humble beginnings.
‘I have plans to one day soon return to my family’s land. When I go back to that stretch of Manhattan Beach, I won’t think only of the injustice done to my ancestors. I’ll also think of the progress our country has made.’
Last September 2021, Newsom apologized for the generations of harm done to the Bruce family
The property along the south shore of Santa Monica Bay encompasses two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for black people at a time when segregation barred them from many beaches.
It included a lodge, cafe, dance hall and dressing tents.
The land lay unused for years, however, and was transferred to the state in 1948.
In 1995, it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. It came with restrictions limiting the ability to sell or transfer the property, which could only be lifted through a new state law.
The county’s lifeguard training headquarters building sits there now, along a scenic beach walkway called The Strand that is lined with luxury homes overlooking the beach.
In Manhattan Beach, an upscale Los Angeles seaside suburb, the population of 35,000 is more than 84 per cent white and 0.8 per cent black, the city website says.
In 2021, the city council formally condemned the efforts of their early 20th century predecessors to displace the Bruces and several other Black families.
Should the Bruce family decide to sell the property, Senate bill 796’s wording would exempt them from a documentary transfer tax, and would shield profits made from the land’s scale from taxation.
‘Plans for the property… [are] personal and between us, the attorneys, and the County of Los Angeles,’ said Duane Shepard, a cousin of the direct descendants of the property and a long-standing spokesman for the reacquisition of the beach.
Key dates in battle for Bruce’s Beach
1912 – Willa and Charles Bruce, who moved to California from New Mexico, buy a beachfront plot of land in Manhattan Beach. She had purchased for $1,225 the first of two lots along the Strand between 26th and 27th streets. They open up a resort.
1924 – Manhattan Beach city council orders the Bruces sell, via eminent domain. They say they need to build a park. The Bruces challenge it in court, but lose. The city paid them $14,500, and they left their beach and lost their business.
1950s – The area had sat empty for decades, but the city council began to realize that questions might be asked unless the park, for which the land was supposedly taken, was not built. They create City Park, later renamed Beachfront, then Bayview Terrace Park. In 1974, it was named after a sister city in Mexico, Parque Culiacan.
2006 – Amid a growing interest in the history of the area, the city council voted 3-2 to rename the beach after the Bruce family — largely because of an appeal by Councilman Mitch Ward, the city’s first black elected official.
2017 – Kavon Ward moves to the area and hears the story of Bruce’s Beach. She begins campaigning to hand it back to the original owners.
2018 – A Bruce family reunion is held at the beach, with around 150 people attending.
2021 – California’s governor Gavin Newsom signs into law SB 796, a bill to return the Manhattan Beach land to descendants of its original owners.
June 28, 2022 – Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously in favor of formally returning the land to the Bruce family