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Manhattan Beach Approves Design for New Bruce's Beach Plaque

Apr 21, 2022 04:46PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Location for a new plaque to replace the former plaque at Bruce's Beach Park in Manhattan Beach. Image via City of Manhattan Beach.

The Manhattan Beach City Council has given updated directions to staff for creating a new plaque and marker at Bruce's Beach Park.

At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, the council directed staff to:
  • Remove the current marker (the bronze plaque could not be removed from the existing marker, so the existing marker cannot not be reused);
  • Place the new marker in the same location as the old one, facing Highland Ave;
  • Install a cement walkway from the sidewalk to the new marker; and
  • Engrave “Bruces’ Beach Park” in the cement.
The city's Public Works department is expected to come back with the cost of the engraving, something that had not been considered in earlier design iterations.

Design-wise, the plaque will look similar to the one that was installed at Mira Costa High School to honor the original owners of that tract of land, the Uyematsu family

The plaque honoring the Uyematsu family at Mira Costa High School

On March 10, the City Council approved the plaque language. That language has since been proofread and updated by a "grammarian."

Also on March 10, the council voted allocate $20,000 from the city's Public Art Trust Fund to support the project. (The Public Art Trust Fund was created through a dedicated 1% fee charged to developers that does not impact the General Fund. All city art projects are funded through the Public Art Trust Fund.)

City staff said they anticipated that the plaque would be completed by June 19, the annual celebration of "Juneteenth."

Plaque Language Had Been Hotly Contested

The question of what to include on a new plaque - and whether to have one at all - has been hotly contested ever since Bruce's Beach re-emerged in the public consciousness in 2020. 

City-wide, there has been tension between two factions. One has been calling for "telling the whole story" by demonstrating that the city had racist motivations in displacing the Bruces and other African American families at the time. The other side has argued that the Bruces were fairly compensated for their land, and has resisted what they see as efforts to portray the city as racist. 

Last June, City Council members adopted the language of the Bruces' Beach history report, as provided by its History Advisory Committee. But councilmembers questioned using the language proposed for the plaques, even though it had been taken from the report it adopted, and instead sent it back to the History Advisory Committee for further revisions. At a follow-up meeting in November, the council again could not agree on the history panel's recommendations, and subsequently opted to do its own review of the language.

That final language was approved by City Council on March 10 on a vote of 5-0.

Yet at Tuesday night's meeting, Councilmembers Suzanne Hadley and Joe Franklin had pressed for even further review, citing comments received from local experts since last month's approval of the final language.

However, the other three councilmembers said they believed that the language had been thoroughly vetted and there was no need for additional review. 

"We're never going to have 100 percent satisfaction," observed Mayor Pro Tem Steve Napolitano.

Franklin requested to have further discussion of the issue put on the agenda for a future meeting, but did not receive a second to his motion.

Bruce's Beach Background

Since 2020, the city has engaged in an emotional debate over how - or how much - to recognize Willa and Charles Bruce, pioneering Black business owners who created a thriving resort for Black beach-goers in Manhattan Beach in the 1920s. 

Historical images of Charles and Willa Bruce, of beachgoers at Bruce's Beach resort, and of the former Bruce's Beach resort site. Photos via Bruce's Beach Task Force subcommittee.

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. The land was acquired by the state of California in 1948, and was transferred to L.A. County in 1995. The beachfront property the Bruce family once owned is now the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. 

An effort led by Los Angeles County leaders to return the land to the Bruce family culminated in September 2021 when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 796, a bill to return the county-owned beachfront property to the Bruce family, into law.

While there are many legal hurdles remaining, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan that they say will iron out those challenges. One potential outcome would be for the Bruce family to lease back the land to the county so that it could maintain current lifeguard operations on the site.

Meanwhile, 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 establishing a plaque in that location. In the summer of 2020, a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

Despite creating a Bruce's Beach Task Force and adopting a history report created by the task force, the Manhattan Beach City Council has struggled for nearly a year with finding compromise on the wording, location, and style for a new marker honoring Bruce's Beach and the Bruce family.

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