Justice is rarely swift in these situations but as conversations about reparations for the Black community press on, a few California legislators are actively working to right a nearly century-old wrong. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the county will return some prime real estate of Manhattan Beach land to the descendants of a Black couple who operated a beach resort there that was trashed by white residents and ultimately condemned and seized by the city.
According to ABC7 LA, transferring the portion of what is known as Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce will require state legislation to remove restrictions on the land, which is now home to the county’s lifeguard training center.
“I learned very quickly that I just can’t give the property back,” Hahn said during a news conference. “It came with restrictions, where it limited our ability to sell or transfer this property. So I need state legislation to lift these restrictions and allow the county to transfer this property.”
Luckily for the Bruce family, Sen. Steve Bradford of Gardena, who is the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he will champion the legislation at the state capitol.
“I look forward to working with the county getting this legislation signed into law this year,” Bradford said. “Sadly, the Bruce story is not unique here in California or across this nation.”
It was 1912 when Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the land for $1,225. They eventually added some other parcels and created a beach resort that catered to Black residents who had few options at the time for enjoying time along the California coast.
Complete with a bath house, dance hall and cafe, the resort attracted other Black families who purchased adjacent land, ultimately creating what they dreamed would be an ocean-view retreat.
But unfortunately the resort was the target of white supremancists, leading to acts of vandalism and attacks on Black visitors.
Despite the racial hardships, the Bruces fought on, continuing to operate the land, but under increasing pressure, the city condemned their property and other surrounding parcels in 1929.
The land was seized through eminent domain under the pretense that the city was planning to build a city park, which forced the owners out of business. The Bruces and the other Black families simply lost their land.
The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign, and though they were eventually awarded some damages, the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.
To top it all off, the property sat vacant for decades, despite the city claiming the land was needed for a city park.
It was not until 1960 that a park was actually built on a portion of the seized land, and it sounds like that move was only made out of spite as city officials feared the evicted families could take new legal action if the property wasn’t used for the purpose for which it was seized, according to ABC and City News Service.
The exact parcel of land the Bruces owned was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995.
“I’m embarrassed to say that I knew very little about this history,” Hahn said Friday, saying she was well aware of the scourge of racism in other parts of the country, but “somehow I thought that didn’t happen here. But in fact it did.”
“And when I realized that the county of Los Angeles now had ownership of the Bruces’ original property, I wanted to do what I could to start righting this wrong,” she added. “I felt there was nothing else to do but to give the property back to the direct descendants Willa and Charles Bruce.”
Fellow County Supervisor Holly Mitchell supports Hahn, adding that the Bruce family was “robbed of their property.”
“The county isn’t gifting anyone anything,” Mitchell said. “The county is returning property that was inappropriately taken. We are returning to the Bruce family … property that they rightfully owned.”
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