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L.A. County Hands Over Bruce's Beach Deed to Bruce Family

Jul 20, 2022 04:24PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

L.A. County officials present official documents to members of the Bruce family at a ceremony in Manhattan Beach on July 20, 2022.

In a formal ceremony on Wednesday, Los Angeles County officials handed the deed to the Manhattan Beach beachfront property once owned by Willa and Charles Bruce to their descendants.

L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell asked the crowd to imagine what the Bruces had been thinking at the time, buying beachfront property at a time when L.A. County and its beaches were segregated. 

"Today we are here to honor that courageous vision, to acknowledge the trials and tribulations that pursued, and in 2022 - with these fearless leaders and advocates bearing witness and all of you here - to return the property to its rightful owners," she said. Gesturing to the Bruce family members on stage and in the audience, she added, "Let’s welcome the Bruces back home."

Last month, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a transfer agreement to return the property to the Bruce family descendants. Under the agreement, the land being returned to the Bruce family are Lots 8 and 9 of Peck’s Manhattan Beach Tract, an estimated 7,000-square-foot property that has been appraised at a value of $21 million. These lots are currently being used by the L.A. County Fire Department as a lifeguard training facility. The motion authorizes the county to lease back the property from the Bruce Family LLC for $413,000 each year. The lease agreement includes an option for the county to purchase back the land for $20 million.

The county has identified Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of Charles and Willa
Bruce, as the legal heirs.

The beachfront property in question - the former site of the Bruce's Beach resort - is separate from Bruce's Beach Park, the open space directly to the east of the lifeguard headquarters that is owned by the city of Manhattan Beach.

A new county-designed plaque has been unveiled on the Manhattan Beach Strand at the site of the former Bruce's Beach resort. 

L.A. County Supervisor with the new Bruce's Beach plaque on the Strand in Manhattan Beach. Photo via Janice Hahn.


Project Leaders Hint at Future Actions

Mitchell, as well as other leaders in attendance acknowledged that the action did not address all of the wrongs inflicted upon minority groups in the past, including indigenous groups, but saw the effort as a groundbreaking first step.


When the leaders first took a look at the idea of returning the land to the Bruce family, "[People]  said the work ahead of us was unprecedented," said L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn. "This work is no longer unprecedented. We have set the precedent in the pursuit of justice...We can’t change the past, and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to your grandparents and great grandparents, but this is a start."

California State Senator Steven Bradford, the author of SB 796, the state bill that gave the county permission to transfer the land, said that this action paved the way for future actions to correct past wrongs. (SB 796 passed with unanimous support in the California Legislature.)

"This transfer will allow the Bruce family to realize generational wealth which they have been denied for generations, simply because they were Black in America," said Bradford. "We cannot change the injustices that were done over the people in the past, but we owe it to future generations to eliminate structural and systemic racism that still clearly exists today."

County leaders praised Kavon Ward, a Manhattan Beach resident who brought new local, state, and national attention to the issue in June 2020 by launching Justice for Bruce's Beach. 

"Yes, it was an audacious vision, but the manifestation of that vision is proof that God is real and almighty," an emotional Ward told the crowd.

Several speakers in attendance alluded to the fact that the Manhattan Beach City Council, while wrestling with the question of how to recognize the Bruce family saga, had declined to offer a formal apology to the Bruce family.

"Despite all the support it should not be missed on anyone here that the city of Manhattan Beach has still yet to apologize for the atrocities that were committed not only to the Bruce family but those other African American families that owned property right here in this area," said Bradford. "It’s time for them to crawl out from under their rock."

Manhattan Beach and Bruce's Beach History

Since 2020, the city of Manhattan Beach 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 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. 

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

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.

Despite creating a Bruce's Beach Task Force and adopting a history report created by the task force, the Manhattan Beach City Council 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.

The City Council approved the plaque language on March 10, 2022 and the plaque design on April 19, 2022.

Also in March 2022, the City Council reaffirmed its policy disallowing special event permits at Bruce's Beach Park, going against a recommendation of the city's Parks and Rec Commission. Councilmembers voted 4-1 to uphold the current special events policy that excludes Bruce's Beach as well as Larsson Parkette and 8th Street Parkette from the permitting process.

This year, Juneteenth 2022 was a relatively quiet day at Bruce's Beach Park, with just a scattering of families enjoying picnics and with city-contracted security staff on hand.

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