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Bruce’s Beach Update: Supervisor Hahn Takes First Steps in Returning Beach Front Land to Descendants of Original Owners
By Betti Halsell, Contributing Writer
Published April 15, 2021

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn (Photo Credit: Janice Hahn Twitter)

On April 8, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announced the preliminary steps towards returning the rightfully owned Manhattan Beach waterfront landscape known as Bruce’s Beach back to the decedents of Charles and Willa Bruce.

The original owners of Bruce’s beach were harassed for owning their land for years, until it was finally seized by the city; Hahn is looking to make a progressive step in the right direction today.

 

Supervisor Holly Mitchell (Courtesy Photo)

Supervisor Holly Mitchell, Senator Steven Bradford, and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi were present when L.A. County met with a representative from the Bruce family on Friday.

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In a document announcing the event, Hahn endorsed this statement, “She has recognized the opportunity the County has to begin to right the wrongs of the past and bring some justice to Charles and Willa Bruce’s descendants. She has been meeting with the family and has stated her intention to work to return the land to them. Friday’s announcement will be a step toward achieving that goal.”

The land was transferred to the State and then back to the County in 1995; it was not until 2006 that the beach was adorned with the name of the original owners. ABC 11 captured this statement, “It is the County’s intention to return this property,” Hahn told the news conference held at Bruce’s Beach.

On April 10, inserts from a County document addressed the condemnation of the beach, “We offer this acknowledgement and condemnation as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years, and the actions we will take together, to the best of our abilities, in deeds and in words, to reject prejudice and hate and promote respect and inclusion.”

Bruce’s Beach (Courtesy Photo)

Ca. Sen. Steve Bradford (Courtesy Photo)

Willa and Charles Bruce were the first Black landowners in Manhattan Beach; they purchased two beachfront lots in 1912.

In a time of strong division, the City of Manhattan eventually found a way to take ownership of their property. Generations of the Bruce family have grown to have stint in their emotions about the beach. In a time of a radical social awakening, Los Angeles County is looking to hand over proper ownership of the beachfront back to the Bruce family.

Charles and Willa Bruce (Courtesy Photo)

Located on 2600 Highland Ave. in Manhattan Beach, CA, Willa and Charles Bruce bought the land for $1,225 ($33,034), followed by another purchase of a beach lot. Many families of color owned land along the coast in that area.

 

The L.A. Times reported years of harassment towards Black property owners. During the Jim Crow era, Black people were driven out of these areas and forced to sell their land. The City would use an ordinance known as eminent domain to strip ownership from the Bruce family and many others alike.

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Through eminent domain, members of the Manhattan community gave City officials the power to obtain privately-owned properties to reimagine for public use. The “urgent takeover” of Bruce’s land was for a public park.

The monument plaque at Bruce’s Beach park in Manhattan Beach. (File Photo)

The Bruce family fought for years in litigation; they asked for $120,000 ($3,203,044 ) for loss of property and damages; the Bruces received $14,000, which is $300,000 in present day.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn stated, “The property that was once the Bruce’s is now owned by the County and I want L.A. County to be part of righting this wrong.” She continued, “I am looking at everything from repurposing the property in a way that tells the history of Bruce’s Beach to actually giving the property back to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.”

Anthony Bruce is one of the direct decedents of Charles and Willa.  He told L.A. Times last year, “The first thing we need to get right is the information about the plaque. We need to make sure the plaque tells the exact story about what happened.” He continued, “That was our property. And they removed it with eminent domain, which was pretty much like using the law to pretty much commit a crime.”

Mrs. Willa Bruce (left) with her daughter-in-law and sister on Bruce’s Beach in the 1920s (CAAM)

This pain in deception has weighed on the Bruce family. Most members of the family do not talk about it publicly. According to ABC news, the beach front is now worth $75 million dollars, and Hahn is leading the way for the County to return the land to the rightful owners.

Hahn reached out to Mitch Ward who served on Manhattan Beach City Council and led the City as Mayor; she called him to speak directly about Bruce’s Beach. According to news report by Patch.com, Ward said during an interview, “Supervisor Hahn has stepped up and is doing the right thing for Black Americans (and consequently, all Americans). She is respectful of our history and is willing to right a wrong that occurred here in Manhattan Beach in the 1920s the City of Manhattan Beach’s orchestrated efforts to rid the city of Black Americans for 100 years are one of the most tragic legacies of our beautiful town.”

Chief Yellow Feather AKA Duane Shepard, the official spokesperson for the Bruce Family. (Twitter/@SupJaniceHahn)

Kavon Ward, Founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach, speaks at a press conference in Manhattan Beach on Friday, April 9, 2021 (LA County)

Ward Continued, “I am glad we have a regional leader that has the ability to come in and do what’s best for the Willa and Charles Bruce family as well as for the County of Los Angeles and the City of Manhattan Beach. Supervisor Hahn has my utmost respect for her leadership and innovative approach to righting this wrong.”

The overturn of this land will not re-write its past transgression, but the correction of the injustice will create a new future for the Bruce family, for generations to come. Their pain of that legacy being taken away has lived with the Bruce family through their name’s sake.

Image of the deed of trust (Courtesy of Jonathan Burgess)

A century later, and the recognition that is instrumental to the healing, has finally come. There is a hill near the land under acquisition, it will not be included in the return. Once the beachfront is handed back to the Bruce family, the agreement could include an option for the Bruce descendants to lease the land back to the county for continued use.

 

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