By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Superior Court ruling April 15 officially clears the way for Los Angeles County to return Bruce’s Beach to descendants of its original Black owners, a decision that reverses a racially motivated property takeover in Manhattan Beach nearly 100 years ago.
Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff denied a petition filed by Palos Verdes attorney Joseph Ryan, who claimed returning the infamous resort area to descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce would be a “personal gift” in violation of the California Constitution.
“We have been waiting patiently to get our family’s property returned to us and are grateful to the court for its decision,” Duane Shepherd, a Bruce descendant and family spokesperson, said in a statement. “We call on the county to act promptly and take another historic step in returning the property of Charles and Willa Bruce.”
County officials have yet to release a timetable on the formal return of the property. Shepherd and family members have also asked about restitution for the “generational wealth” that was lost after the couple was forced to sell their resort.
Beckloff’s decision follows a previous victory in 2021, when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 796, a bill introduced by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, that lifted restrictions on transferring the Manhattan Beach property to the county.
“Judge Beckloff’s ruling affirms the right of the state and county to return the property to the Bruce heirs in recognition of the grave injustice committed 100 years ago,” E. Martin Estrada, an attorney representing the Bruce family, said in a statement after the ruling. “We are heartened by the court’s decision and hope that there will be no further delays in this historic and long overdue return of Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family.”
Throughout the legal process, Bruce family members and descendants have asked for a formal apology from Manhattan Beach city officials. The Manhattan Beach City Council voted in 2021 against issuing an apology but did release a statement of “acknowledgement and condemnation” of the events surrounding the Bruce’s Beach takeover in 1924.
In addition to the statement of acknowledgement, the Manhattan Beach City Council developed a plaque and public art display near the Bruce’s Beach site to commemorate the couple’s pioneering business venture. Today, the property area is the training site for L.A. County lifeguards.
Charles and Willa Bruce purchased two plots of beach property in Manhattan Beach 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 of Black patrons by white residents in Manhattan Beach. City officials forced the couple to give up their property in 1924 on the basis of “eminent domain,” a provision that allows governments to take private property and convert it to public use if the original owners are paid for the transfer.
According to court documents, the Bruces asked for $70,000 for the property but were paid only $14,500. Real estate experts reportedly value the property today as high as $75 million.
The 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.
In a 2021 interview on Fox 11, county Supervisor Janice Hahn talked about the historical impact of returning Bruce’s Beach to the family and the need to “right a wrong.”
“This could set a precedent,” Hahn said in the interview. “This is the first example of the government giving land back to African-Americans.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.