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Manhattan Beach Mayor Apologizes to Bruce’s Beach Families and Unveils New City Landmark

After nearly three years of controversy and intense debate, Manhattan Beach held a ceremony of its own on Saturday to acknowledge its racist history at Bruce’s Beach and mark what city leaders call a new chapter of healing.

More than 100 residents, city staff and government officials gathered to reflect on the fact that the city once expelled an entire community of black bathing people from the city. Standing in front of a new monument explaining this historic injustice, Mayor Steve Napolitano asked the crowd to join him in a moment of silence.

“It’s been a long, long way to get here,” said Napolitano, who personally apologized to all the black families whose property had been seized by the city a century ago, and called on the rest of the City Council to do the same. . “We are here today to unveil a new plaque, to reconcile our history, confront some uncomfortable truths, and acknowledge how far we’ve come while acknowledging how far we still have to go.”

More than 100 people gather Saturday for the unveiling of a new monument on Bruce’s Beach.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

While Los Angeles County led the unprecedented charge to return portions of county-owned land to the Bruce family, the local response on what to do with the rest of the land, which had been turned into an oceanfront park , has been the subject of immense criticism.

Much of the city’s efforts have focused on how to replace a memorial plaque that had overlooked how and why the land was taken. city ​​leaders they have also dedicated $350,000 for a memorial art installation that will be the largest art project ever commissioned in Manhattan Beach.

But the deliberations on what the new nameplate should say have been charged. critics say the new text still covers up the history of Bruce’s Beach, with many questioning whether creating a new monument actually amounts to justice.

“This feels like too little, too late,” said George Fatheree, a prominent real estate transaction lawyer who represented the Bruce family pro bono.

“Where was the city three years ago when the county began the process of returning the land to the Bruce family? What about the property taken from the other black families that is still owned by the City of Manhattan Beach? he said. “This feels like a performative gesture rather than a serious attempt at restitution and reconciliation.”

A woman stands up in the crowd as people applaud

Saturday’s ceremony recognized Gina Young as the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Patterson, whose property had been expropriated by Manhattan Beach in the 1920s as part of the Bruce’s Beach neighborhood seizure.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

The Bruce’s Beach story resurfaced in 2020, when a call for justice it prompted city, county and state officials to take a closer look at what transpired there.

Charles and Willa Bruce arrived in California in 1912, years after white developers reclaimed the ancestral lands of the Tongva people and established what is now Manhattan Beach.

Willa bought two sandside lots and ran a popular lodging that provided a rare welcome to black bathers. A few more black families, drawn to this new neighborhood that became known as Bruce’s Beach, bought and built their own seaside cottages.

But white residents resented the growing popularity of Bruce’s Beach, and the Ku Klux Klan and local real estate agents allegedly conspired to harass them. In 1924, city officials finally condemned the entire neighborhood and seized black property, as well as 25 vacant lots owned by white speculators. They said there was an urgent need for a public park.

But the properties sat empty for decades. Bruce’s two parcels were transferred to the state in 1948, then to the county in 1995. The other lots, still owned by the City of Manhattan Beach, were eventually converted into a park.

Recent actions taken by the county and city in response to this story have been a tale of two calculations: County leaders quickly sought ways to return county-owned parcels to the Bruce family. (That transaction, valued at $20 million, was completed last summer in an emotional ceremony.)

Meanwhile, the response from Manhattan Beach city leaders has spawned one controversy after another. a thorough history report It was completed. A sorry written up. But some expressed concern that an apology would expose the city to potential lawsuits.

While many still take issue with the city refusing to formally apologize to the Bruce family, the mayor’s personal apology drew loud cheers Saturday. The new plaque also notes that “the City’s action at that time was racially motivated and wrong. Today, the City acknowledges and condemns those past actions, and stands in solidarity with those whose property was seized.”

The sign also names the other black families whose property had been expropriated: the Prioleaus, the Johnsons, Mrs. Patterson, and Mrs. Sanders.

Children help cut a ribbon at a ceremony

Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano gets help from 8-year-old Benjamin Leggett to cut a ribbon for the official unveiling of the new monument at Bruce’s Beach.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian who documented the history of Bruce’s Beach in her book “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era,” said the town’s new landmark illustrates a better understanding of history, by less describes property seizures in clear detail, but there are still a number of inaccuracies in the text.

It also erases a key part of history: Bruce’s Beach shouldn’t be remembered just as a place with a painful past, it’s also a place where black entrepreneurship thrived and where black joy could exist, Jefferson said. Bruce’s Beach was also a community, a community that needs to be remembered and ultimately rebuilt.

A new monument doesn’t change the fact that Manhattan Beach’s population today remains less than 1% black, he said. A monument doesn’t change the fact that beach access still feels unattainable for many inland communities of color.

That it’s a legacy of driving the Bruces and the other families out of Manhattan Beach in the 1920s,” Jefferson said. “What is Manhattan Beach going to do to solve that? … What is the city going to do to encourage more people to wear the beach, to be able live in the community?

Near the old Bruce's Beach marker

The old Bruce’s Beach marker, left, was replaced Saturday with a new monument. Critics said the old bookmark missed the story of why the Bruce family was driven out of town.

(Rosanna Xia; Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Kavon Ward, who started the grassroots movement Justice for Bruce Beach, said that instead of spending $350,000 on an art installation, the city could have considered new affordable housing policies. The city could have made the Bruce family feel welcome, perhaps even helped them get around zoning restrictions on their waterfront property, instead of simply leaving it there as a parcel for public use only. (Moving to Manhattan Beach was untenable for the Bruces, who last month decided to sell the property to the county.)

“Everything to do with housing, education, police, everything today says this is the same Manhattan Beach as it was 100 years ago,” said Ward, who is now helping five other black families in California with histories similar to the Bruces. “Manhattan Beach still has a debt to pay to all the Black families forced out of that community and to all the Black people who continue to be systematically prevented from taking up space in that community.”

Mitch Ward, who sought to expose the history of Bruce’s Beach in 2006 after becoming the city’s first black elected official, said he found this passage on the particularly offensive sign: “In addition, twenty-five white-owned properties that were found undeveloped among the black-owned properties were also condemned.”

“The Bruces were attacked in a racist way by our government and by racist citizens, and to equate them in any way, especially on a historical marker, with someone who simply had a fact, a speculative fact, who lived on the other side of the United States. .. that is a gross misrepresentation of history,” he said.

But Ward (no relation to Kavon Ward) acknowledged that Bruce’s Beach has somehow transcended local politics. Visitors from across the county now come to the park to reflect on and pay tribute to what Ward calls a “national black treasure.”

The new monument at Bruce's Beach

The new monument at Bruce’s Beach was unveiled on Saturday.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Reaching even this tipping point hasn’t been easy for Manhattan Beach, but many in the city hoped Saturday’s meeting would mean the community had finally found a way to move forward. TO page dedicated to the history of Bruce’s Beach now lives permanently on the city’s website, and the city is in final weeks accepting proposals for the art installation, which it said should “evoke a sense of peace, healing and community, and offer an educational opportunity for visitors to learn about the history of this area.”

“It can’t stop there,” said Susan Bales, a longtime resident who said the mayor’s apology was overdue. “The city must also consider other aspects of the city’s infrastructure that continue to make this a predominantly white town.”

Maya Shivpuri, 14, of Manhattan Beach, reads the words on the new monument at Bruce's Beach.

Maya Shivpuri, 14, reads the words on the new monument at Bruce’s Beach.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Reliving this history has also led to significant discoveries. Gina Young, who lives in Glendale, said she didn’t know her family had any connection to Bruce’s Beach until 2021, when she saw that her great-great-aunt, Elizabeth Patterson, was one of the owners whose property had been seized by Manhattan. . Beach in the 1920s.

“I felt like I needed to be here to support my family,” said Young, who attended Saturday’s ceremony and thanked the mayor for his apology. “They went through a lot in the ’20s and me being here is a way of honoring that.”

Patricia Bruce-Carter, a distant relative who helped connect many of the pieces for the direct descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, said remembering this space, even if the text remains flawed, is still meaningful after nearly a century of pain. and intentional deletion.

“It makes me proud to know that this black couple, 100 years ago, came to California, followed their dream, succeeded and was thriving,” he said. “It takes a lot longer than it should… but history continues to correct itself, and I’m happy to say I’m here to witness it.”