California Returns Bruce’s Beach To Black Family 100 Years After It Was Stolen From Them
Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Thursday, Sept. 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that unanimously transfers rights of what was once known as Bruce’s Beach to heirs of the land’s original owners.

The prime beachfront property hosted a resort built by Black entrepreneurs Willa and Charles Bruce when they purchased the land in 1912. Shortly after, Los Angeles County stripped them of the land using underhanded tactics and local officials.

“The journey here was far from easy,” said Kavon Ward, a Black resident who learned of the property’s history and founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach.

Gov. Newsom apologized to nearly a half-dozen descendants of the Bruce family present and suggested the move could be the start of broader plans. “This can be catalytic,” Newsom said. “What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else.”

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led a government push to return the land to the Bruce family, said the heirs would almost certainly be millionaires now if the property had not been taken.

“The law was used to steal this property 100 years ago, and the law today will give it back,” Hahn said.

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Willa and Charles Bruce, whose property along the south shore of Santa Monica Bay served as a beautiful sight, was one of the first safe spaces for Black people to enjoy. It included a lodge, dance hall, dressing tents, and a café.

But white neighbors, local officials, and other racists all took shots at the Black-owned resort. In the 1920s, the Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to take the land from the Bruces, purportedly for use as a park, but it remained unused for years.

In 1995, after being transferred to the state in 1948, the land was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. The area has seen a rise in property values with demographic changes. Manhattan Beach, with a population of 35,000-plus, is more than 84% white and 0.8% Black, according to the city’s website.

This year, the City Council formally condemned the efforts of their early 20th century predecessors, and there was even a vaulted Juneteenth celebration on the grounds to celebrate the Bruces’ reclamation of the land.

The county has outlined steps to move the transfer forward, including assessing the value of the parcel, vetting the legal heirs of the Bruces, and possibly finding a new site for the lifeguard training headquarters.

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