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City Council Sends Bruce's Beach Plaque Language Back to Panel

Jul 21, 2021 08:33AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Two proposed locations for a new Bruce's Beach plaque - in front of the L.A. County Lifeguard Headquarters, and on the West side of the Strand just south of the exercise facilities.

The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night discussed proposed language for two new Bruce's Beach plaques to be installed in Manhattan Beach, and then sent the language back to its History Advisory Board for additional review.

The History Advisory Board had proposed language for two new plaques, one to appear at the L.A. County Lifeguard Headquarters, the site of the former Bruce's Beach resort; and one to replace the current plaque at Bruce's Beach Park.

The panel proposed the following language [linked here] for the Strand plaque and for the Bruce's Beach Park plaque.

Following numerous questions about proposed wording on various portions of the plaques - along with the fact that the plaques would essentially be permanent - the City Council asked the panel to take another look.

"The plaque is going to be there for decades, if not longer, and we want this to be right," Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley told advisory board members at the city council meeting. "This is a good first draft, but it’s too soon to act tonight."

Wording Questioned

Councilmembers had various questions about the wording used in the language for the plaques.

For example, Councilmember Joe Franklin cited one of the sections called "The Racist Motivation Behind the Eminent Domain Action." The section referred to a popular African-American newspaper at the time having "speculated" that the Ku Klux Klan was active in beachfront cities. Franklin asked why the plaque would include "speculation" and said that the language should stick with facts only. 

Franklin also asked why one paragraph first referred to harassment that the Bruce family experienced "from some white neighbors" but later in the paragraph it said that "White residents expressed a concern about an 'invasion' by African Americans."

"Shouldn't it say "'Some' or 'A few' white residents'?" asked Franklin.

Also influencing the discussion was an anonymous email that had circulated around town prior to the meeting by a group critical of the report language. The email aimed to fuel dissent in part by calling the plaques "a wasteful use of taxpayer money." In fact, the funding for the plaques will come from the city's Public Art Trust Fund, which is funded by a 1% fee paid by developers for art projects, not from the city's General Fund.

Councilmember Steve Napolitano scolded those who would jump in at the last minute with criticisms. The History Advisory Board meetings were advertised and had encouraged public participation, he said. "If you don’t like what you read here, it's not because you didn’t have the opportunity to question it before now."

Nonetheless, Napolitano supported returning the draft to the history panel. "They’ll either agree with [the new suggested edits] or not, or provide supporting materials or evidence as to the points they have made. Then we can review it again," he said.

Bruce's Beach Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular Black beach resort in Manhattan Beach. The property was one of the very few beaches where Black residents could go, because most other Southern California beaches were off-limits to people of color. 

By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want Black beachgoers in town, Manhattan Beach's Board of Trustees (a precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain and displaced the Bruce family as well as other families who had settled in the area. 

In 1948, the beachfront property once owned by the Bruce family was transferred to the state, with conditions. In 1995, L.A. County accepted control of Bruce’s Beach and other lands from the state.

It was not until 2006 that the city of Manhattan Beach publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area east of the beachfront property Bruce's Beach Park, and it was not until the summer of 2020 that a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

After a summer of controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach City Council agreed to form a task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate Bruce's Beach Park. The task force was disbanded after it delivered its report in March; the city adopted the history subcommittee's report in June.

The Bruce's Beach task force had called for an official resolution of apology from the city of Manhattan Beach. After much discussion over several options, the city voted in early April for a "resolution of acknowledgement and condemnation" rather than an apology.

Meanwhile, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn and the Board of Supervisors have proposed returning the two original parcels of beachfront property that the Bruce family once owned to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. Those beachfront parcels are immediately west of Bruce's Beach Park and are currently the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard training headquarters.

SB 796, a bill to remove current state restrictions on the land and formally allow the county to transfer the parcels to Bruce family descendants, is currently awaiting action in the California State Assembly. Nevertheless, L.A. County officials have said they plan to move forward with the steps they have set forth while they wait for the legislature to approve the measure.

Bruce family representatives have not yet said what their plans would be for the property if it were to be returned to them. Hahn has suggested that she would be open to having the Bruce family lease it back to the county for the lifeguard headquarters in exchange for fair market rent.

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