Skip to main content

MB News

New Bruce's Beach Plaque Unveiled; Mayor Apologizes

Mar 19, 2023 09:45AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano, Manhattan Beach City Council members, and community members prepare to cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the new plaque at Bruce's Beach Park.

On Saturday morning, the city of Manhattan Beach unveiled its new plaque at Bruce's Beach Park - as the mayor apologized to the Black families impacted by the city's nearly 100-year-old actions.

The plaque unveiling (see full text of the plaque here) had been expected, but what was not expected was Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano offering an apology to the Black families who were uprooted from their homes in a racially motivated action by the city in the 1920s.


"I personally apologize to the Bruces, the Prioleaus, the Pattersons, the Sanders, the Johnsons, the McCaskills, the Irvins, and the Slaughters for the wrongful racially motivated taking of their property by this city nearly 100 years ago," said Napolitano to applause by the crowd of more than 100.

"That wasn't hard, folks - I haven't been struck by lighting. Nobody got hurt," added Napolitano, who holds the title of mayor for two more full days until Mayor Pro Tem Richard Montgomery assumes the title on March 21.

[The full text of Napolitano's remarks are below.]

The issue of the city not previously having offered an "apology" has been a sore point to many Bruce's Beach advocates. While the descendants of the families had asked for an apology - and the city's Bruce's Beach Task Force had recommended one - some councilmembers had expressed concerns that making an apology would open them to liability.

In April 2021, Manhattan Beach City Council members considered three different resolutions, two of which contained an "apology." Nevertheless, the council was only able to get agreement on, and ultimately voted 4-1, in support of an "acknowledgement and condemnation" of the 1920s eminent domain action.

Eliza Jane Franklin Leggett, a UCLA urban planning graduate student with a concentration in historic preservation who has done research on Bruce's Beach, said after the event that Napolitano's apology was "powerful." She added that she was glad she brought her two boys, who wound up helping Napolitano cut the ceremonial ribbon, to witness the event.

"[Napolitano] making that statement was groundbreaking, because it's at the point now where everybody makes these grandiose actions but they don't make that statement that 'We are sorry,'" Leggett said. "This is how we heal the divide - These hard conversations have to be had, and the people in power, in those positions, have to be willing to have them."

Saturday's event also featured remarks on the history of Bruce's Beach from Kristin Long Drew, Tyler St. Bernard, and Isla Garraway; all members of the Bruce's Beach Task Force's History Advisory Committee.

"What we celebrate today is a very significant step in the right direction," said Drew before the plaque was unveiled. "Yes, - we still have a ways to go. We hope by acknowledging our history we can learn from it and grow from it. We hope that this plaque as well as the one provided by the county - and our history report - will help to inform people about what happened here, inspire them to ask questions, and encourage them to acknowledge our past."

Still to come at Bruce's Beach Park is a redesigned garden to surround the monument and a sculptural art piece. The total budget for the artwork is $350,000, which comes from the city's Public Art Trust Fund, a 1% fee levied on developers that is earmarked specifically for public art and is not part of the city's general fund.

Full Text of Mayor's Remarks

Following is the full text of Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano's remarks at the unveiling of the Bruce's Beach Park plaque:


We are here today to unveil a new plaque; to reconcile our history, confront some uncomfortable truths, and recognize how far we've come, while acknowledging how far we still need to go. We are not here to check a box, pat ourselves on the back, or declare "Mission Accomplished."

Let's start with the obvious: I am a white male, or as Amy [Howorth] likes to remind me, I am an older white male. I am more privileged than most, less privileged than others, I grew up here on the not-so-mean streets of Manhattan Beach, where most of the other kids looked like me, talked like me, and dressed like me. The TV shows we would watch for the most part reflected the same. At that time, diversity meant watching "Sanford and Son," "Good Times," and "The Jeffersons."

Manhattan Beach was and is, overwhelmingly White - a fact rooted in the same prevailing attitude in the early part of the last century that led to the condemnation of the properties here, along with redlining and racial covenants typical of many cities of that time, that thankfully are no more. Money, not race, has become the barrier to entry today, but the effects of those past events and practices still linger. So in preparing these comments, I asked a good number of folks from different backgrounds what I should say today. The response was overwhelmingly the same: They said "I don't know what you should say, I'm just glad you have to do it and I don't." Thanks for that.

There are some people I have heard from throughout this process. Some people have asked me, "Why are we doing this?" "When does it end?" "Why don't we change the name of the park now that we know the Bruces didn't own property there?" "The county already has a plaque - Why do we need one too?" - questions that I think that answer themselves. Some people took out two-page anonymous ads and waged a divisive war of disinformation and fear about the city's efforts over the last three years.

Some people. Show me a town that doesn't have "some people" - we're always going to have some people who just don't want to talk about these things, who just want them to go away. Well, "some people" will never learn.

On the other hand, I've heard from some people who say a plaque and an art piece are not enough. Some people have called our city racist. Some have said that the new plaque language is about City Council members wanting to be "White saviors" as they project their guilt about their city's racist past actions - I don't even know what that means. And some people at higher levels of government talked about us without ever bothering to talk with us.

But it goes to show that we're never going to please some people, some of whom stood on this very spot 16 years ago in celebration of nothing more than a renaming of this park and the placement of a grossly inaccurate plaque that wrongly glorified a White man more than the Black pioneers who lost their property here. They were invited here today but chose not to attend. But enough about "some people." I'm here to talk about the rest of us.

The rest of us know Manhattan Beach is unequivocally not a racist city in any way, shape, or form. That doesn't mean racist things can't happen here. Anyone can say or do something racist. But that doesn't mean the city or its residents are racists. Everyone is not responsible for the stupid acts of an individual. We are a welcoming, loving, and inclusive community that has stood together time and again to mourn tragedies and stand up and speak out against hate, injustice, intolerance - if you look over there we have a campaign against hate going on, and thanks to former Mayor Hildy Stern, we continue that campaign today.

Bruce's Beach is no different. Together we formed the task force, held raw discussions regarding past and present racist incidents, subjected draft statements to the slings and arrows of public scrutiny, wrote an unvarnished history, agreed and disagreed over words and their meaning, came up with a new plaque, and are investing $350,000 in art to recognize and commemorate the wrongs done here - not because we think Manhattan Beach is racist, but because we know it's not.

We didn't do these things because of what "some people" think. We did them because it was the right thing to do, regardless of what "some people" think. But we're not perfect. We've made mistakes along the way. We've said some things that could have been said better, done some things that could have been done better. This is the nature of these things. I understand the descendants of the Prioleau family would like a word change in the plaque. So I wrote this whole paragraph here - for those of you who have read the article in the Easy Reader, the family wasn't happy about some of the language in the plaque. I talked to the 90-year-old granddaughter of Ethel and George Prioleau the other day and assured her that there was no intent to not make sure that people knew that their property was here in the park. Well it turns out the language they wanted is in the plaque. That the mockup that they saw and that the reporter saw, we had on our website by mistake, and we own that now, we have to, had the different language in it, so this language says that their property was in this park. So we have settled that.

But that's not all they want; in my talk with her, I also understand that they want an apology. So do I. We have acknowledged and condemned but we haven't apologized. It's a simple difference but with a much deeper meaning. We don't teach our children to "acknowledge and condemn" the things they do wrong; we teach them to say they're sorry. Adults shouldn't do the opposite of what they teach their kids. And I get that not everyone agrees with me on this, and that's fine - they're entitled to their opinion just as I'm entitled to mine. And yet I haven't heard a good reason not to do it. There are many examples of governments apologizing for historic wrongs.* Reagan did it. We can do it too. Not because anyone today is responsible for what happened 100 years ago - They're not. And not because everyone 100 years ago was responsible either - They weren't. I've heard all the excuses: "The families were compensated" "It was a long time ago" "An apology is an admission of guilt" "An apology will mean lawsuits" - Nonsense, all of them. I can apologize on my own, and so right now I do: I personally apologize to the Bruces, the Prioleaus, the Pattersons, the Sanders, the Johnsons, the McCaskills, the Irvins, and the Slaughters for the wrongful racially motivated taking of their property by this city nearly 100 years ago.

That wasn't hard, folks - I haven't been struck by lighting. Nobody got hurt.

But I know it doesn't mean much just coming from me. It needs to come from the city, and for that I need and want my council colleagues to join me in apologizing to these families, because that does mean a lot. Let's be that council that stopped the nonsense, and start the healing, because it's the right thing to do, regardless of what "some people" think. In the meantime, we have a plaque to unveil, but before we do that I'd like to ask that we all take a moment of silence to reflect on the meaning of today, the wrong that was done, the hurt that it caused, and how we can apply what we've learned from it to keep moving Manhattan Beach forward with love, empathy, and hope for the future. 

*Editor's note: The cities of Glendale, CA; Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Tampa, Florida (see page 1032 of this link for the actual resolution) have all issued resolutions apologizing for discriminatory racial practices of the past.

Bruce's Beach Background and Coverage

Manhattan Beach News has covered Bruce's Beach extensively, beginning with a 2019 obituary of early Bruce's Beach historian Bob Brigham. Links to additional stories are below.

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, five 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. L.A. County officials handed over the deed to the property to the descendants of the Bruce family in July 2022. The county also created a plaque on the Strand that details the history of the beachfront property. Nevertheless, the Bruce family in 2023 sold the property back to L.A. County for $20 million.

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 (park) 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 Park and the Bruce family.

The City Council approved the plaque language on March 10, 2022 and the plaque design on April 19, 2022. It has since approved $350,000 for a sculptural art project to accompany the plaque at Bruce's Beach Park.

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 Park as well as Larsson Parkette and 8th Street Parkette from the permitting process.

Although a "Juneteenth" celebration in 2021 had brought large crowds to Bruce's Beach, 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.

Subscribe to MB News Emails * Don't Miss a Thing, Sign Up Today!

* indicates required
Email Format

Subscribe to MB News Emails * Don't Miss a Thing, Sign Up Today!

* indicates required
Email Format