County Supervisor Janice Hahn on Friday will announce initial steps to return a scenic parcel of Manhattan Beach land to the ancestors of a couple who were subjected to years of harassment for operating a Black beach resort that was ultimately condemned and seized by city.
The seizure has long stained the history of the seaside community, particularly in the past year amid a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice. It was unclear exactly what Hahn plans to announce at a Friday news conference that will also include Supervisor Holly Mitchell, Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. A representative of the Bruce family is also expected to attend.
In a statement announcing the event, her office says Hahn 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.”
It was 1912 when Willa and Charles Bruce purchased land along what is now the Strand and roughly 26th Street for $1,225. They eventually added some other parcels and created a beach resort catering 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 and created what they hoped would be a ocean-view retreat.
But the resort quickly became a target of the area’s white populace, leading to acts of vandalism, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan. The Bruces were undeterred and continued operating their small enclave, but under increasing pressure, the city condemned their property and other surrounding parcels in 1929, seizing it through eminent domain under the pretense of planning to build a city park.
The resort was forced out of business, and the Bruces and other Black families lost their land. The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign. The Bruces were eventually awarded some damages, as were other displaced families. But the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.
Despite the city claiming the land was needed for a city park, the property sat vacant for decades. It was not until 1960 that a park was built on a portion of the seized land, with city officials fearing the evicted families could take new legal action if the property wasn’t used for the purpose for which it was seized. The exact parcel of land the Bruces owned was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995. It currently houses the county’s Lifeguard Training Center.
The city park has borne a variety of names over the years. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park “Bruce’s Beach” in honor of the evicted family. That honor, however, has been derided by critics as a hollow gesture toward the family. After hours of public comment and debate Tuesday night, the Manhattan
Beach City Council adopted a resolution acknowledging and condemning the city’s actions of a century ago involving Bruce’s Beach. But the resolution did not include an apology to the family. The council did agree to install new historical markers at the site. Anthony Bruce, a descendant of Willa and Charles, told the Los Angeles Times last year that the beach is his family’s “legacy,” and its fate“has haunted my family for ages.”
Some local residents created an advocacy group calling for the city to acknowledge the history of the park and install a new commemorative plaque paying property tribute to the Bruces. There is also a Change.org petition calling for the land to be returned, with restitution, to the Bruce family. More than 14,500 people have signed the petition, which is at https://www.change.org/p/manhattan-beach-city-council-address-the-full-history-of-bruce-s-beach .