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Bruce's Beach Plaque Replaced

May 01, 2024 07:51AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
A new bronze plaque at Bruce’s Beach Park describing the history of the site has officially been installed.

The concrete pedestal on which the plaque is mounted had remained empty since January, when the plaque was stolen.

The new plaque is made of the same material but it is affixed differently so as to prevent theft, a city spokesperson told MB News. 

The theft of the plaque appears most likely tied to a recent rash in thefts of bronze from memorials in the greater Los Angeles area, and not specifically associated with Manhattan Beach or Bruce's Beach, according to the spokesperson.

The theft had marked a major blow to the city, to those who had spent thousands of hours researching and developing the plaque language, and to those who saw it as an important and emotional pilgrimage site.

(A photo from January, when the plaque at Bruce's Beach Park in Manhattan Beach  was stolen from its base.)


Plaque Marks Historic Spot

Originally installed in February 2023, the plaque holds significant historical and cultural value both in Manhattan Beach and as a part of Black history in Southern California.

The plaque also marks the outgrowth of an extensive period of reflection on the history of Bruce's Beach.

In 2020, the city formed a task force to research the history of the city’s racially motivated eminent domain action to dispossess Willa and Charles Bruce and others of their property in the 1920s. The task force’s work resulted in the adoption of a formal history report on Bruce’s Beach. The City Council took action to draft language that was placed on the bronze plaque and installed at Bruce’s Beach Park.

The Bruce's Beach Park plaque was formally unveiled in March 2023. (See the full text of the wording on the plaque here.)

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. The city has planned the first of two Juneteenth celebrations in 2024 to take place at Bruce's Beach Park.

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