By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The four remaining descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, the Black couple who were stripped of their Bruce’s Beach resort by Manhattan Beach city officials in 1924, are selling the celebrated property back to Los Angeles County for $20 million.
George Fatheree, an attorney for the descendants, confirmed the sale, which comes just six months after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors delivered a historic 5-0 vote to return the property to the Bruce family.
“The decision the family made will give them the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” Fatheree said in an interview Jan. 3 with Tavis Smiley on KBLA Talk 1580. “My job is to show them what their options are.”
Fatheree submitted paperwork to the Board of Supervisors Dec. 30 to formally request the transaction. A spokesperson for the supervisors said the sale will be completed in 30 days after the transaction goes through escrow.
When the Board of Supervisors transferred the 7,000-square-foot property to the Bruce family last June 28, the agreement included an option for the family to sell the land back to the county if desired. County Board Chair Janice Hahn agreed to the purchase.
“This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family,” Hahn said in a statement. “They feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the county for $20 million and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century.”
As part of the property transfer last June 28, the county had agreed to pay the Bruce descendants $413,000 per year as long as the family kept the property, which is located on Highland Avenue and serves as a lifeguard training facility for the county Fire Department.
The four living Bruce descendants include Anthony Bruce, a great-grandson of Charles; Michael Bruce, Anthony’s brother and Charles’ great-grandson; Derrick Bruce, Anthony and Michael’s father; and Marcus Bruce, Derrick’s brother. All four descendants live outside of California.
Anthony Bruce, who previously served as a spokesperson for the descendants, was unavailable for comment.
Duane Shepherd, a cousin of the descendants who lives in Los Angeles, indicated the family’s decision to sell the property was based partly on the family’s inability “to do anything with the property.”
Shepherd informed the Board of Supervisors of the Bruce’s Beach situation in 2018 and became a key figure in the push to get the property returned to the family.
The push included a bill sponsored by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, that lifted restrictions on the property transfer and allowed the Board of Supervisors to move forward in returning the property.
Reaction to the descendants’ decision to sell the property to the county has been mixed. On several social media outlets, comments ranged from “shameful” to “incredibly disappointing.” One response labeled the sale as a “missed opportunity to create generational wealth.”
Another comment criticized the descendants for “going for the big money instead of building a lasting empire like their ancestors wanted them to…”
“The family feels they would come out better doing it this way,” Shepherd told a reporter. “They’re thinking about purchasing more land somewhere. They always knew there was nothing they could do with the land where it is.”
Charles and Willa Bruce purchased the property in 1912, turning the land into a profitable resort area for Black professionals and their families to swim, surf, eat and relax. The resort’s popularity led to harassment for Black patrons from white residents in Manhattan Beach.
Manhattan Beach city officials, uncomfortable with Blacks having a beach resort in their area, invoked a provision known as “eminent domain,” which gives governments the right to take private property and convert it to public use if the original owners are paid for the transfer.
The city condemned the property and forced the Bruce’s to sell it. The Bruce’s asked for $70,000, but court documents show that the city only paid them $14,500.
Evidence of racial motivation behind stripping Bruce’s Beach from the couple was revealed several years later when a member of the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees wrote a column in a local newspaper claiming the move had to be made to address the “Negro problem” in the area.
The trustee member believed the success of Bruce’s Beach was “slowing” Manhattan Beach’s progress.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.