L.A. County Supervisors Vote to Return Beachfront Property to Bruce Family in Historic Land TransferJun 28, 2022 10:27PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
A diagram showing a plan for a return of the beachfront property to the Bruce family, as shown at a news conference in Manhattan Beach in April 2021.
According to the co-authors, the historic vote marks the first time in the history of Los Angeles County that land will be returned to Black descendants whose ancestors lost property due to actions rooted in systemic racism.
“Bruce’s Beach has always been so much more than a scenic location to enjoy the California coast," said Mitchell in a statement following the vote. "It 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. It holds the memories of countless Black families, the deep pain of multi-generational loss, and the hope that comes from facing the heinous acts of our past and having the courage to do what is right today. I am deeply honored to stand with the board in completing this unprecedented return of land to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce. Manhattan Beach, which was previously part of the fourth district and is now in the second district, has a new chapter in our shared history that exemplifies how we can begin to meaningfully address long-standing injustices in this county and nation.”
Bruce's Beach Park, a grassy terraced park located East of the lifeguard facility, is owned by the city of Manhattan Beach and is not affected by the transfer of the county-owned beachfront land.
Move Draws Reactions from Family, City, Tribal Leaders
The county's action drew a range of reactions yesterday.
“This is a day we weren’t sure would ever come," said Anthony Bruce, a spokesman for the Bruce family, in a statement following the vote. "The return of our family’s property happened thanks to the hard work of many, many people. It means the world to us, and we know how important this is to people across the country. But it is also bittersweet. My great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce sacrificed to open a business that gave Black people a place to gather and socialize, and Manhattan Beach took it from them because of the color of their skin. It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance at the American Dream. I wish they could see what has happened today. We hope this opens people’s eyes to a part of American history that isn’t talked about enough, and we think it’s a step toward trying to right the wrongs of the past.”
Meanwhile, leaders from Indigenous groups welcomed the news but also called for further acknowledgement of the original tribal owners of the lands.
Angela Mooney D'Arcy, the executive director of the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, requested that the Board of Supervisors recognize the Gabrielino Tongva in its documentation as the original caretakers of the land. She also called upon the board to meet with leaders and members of the Gabrielino Tongva tribal communities to learn more about their priorities for their ancestral homelands in the context of land return.
In Manhattan Beach, Mayor Steve Napolitano, a lifelong Manhattan Beach resident, said that the action was an opportunity to learn and move forward.
"This is a joint agreement between the county and the Bruce family
regarding the disposition of property owned by the county that had been
previously owned by the Bruces. The city was not asked, nor was it
required to be involved," said Napolitano in an email to MBNews. "Nevertheless, it is the
result of a difficult but necessary reexamination of the events that
led to this moment which the city was very much involved in. The
Manhattan Beach of today is a welcoming, inclusive community whose city
council voted unanimously to acknowledge and condemn
the wrongful taking of the Bruce property nearly 100 years ago by a
much different city council at a much different time in American
history. We’re glad for the opportunity for all involved to learn from
it, and now move forward from it.
Bruce's Beach Background
the mid-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,
condemning the lots and displacing the Bruce family as well as other
families who had
settled in the area. (Of the 30 lots condemned, six were owned by five
Black families and had been developed with cottages, homes, or, in the
Bruces’ case, a two-story building for their business; and the remaining
25 lots were owned by White property owners that had no structures
built upon them and were uninhabited.)
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.
Meanwhile, within Manhattan Beach, it was not until 2006 that the city 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.