Senate approves beach property measure

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State Sen. Steven Bradford speaks at an April news conference announcing his legislation that would return Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family. More than 100 years ago, Bruce’s Beach was one of the only Southern California beaches where Blacks were allowed. (Courtesy photo)

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — A bill to return a scenic and valuable parcel of Manhattan Beach land to the descendants of a Black couple who once operated a beach resort there was unanimously approved by the state Senate June 2.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, authored the bill.

“It is never too late for justice,” Bradford said. “Even 100 years later, we have the perfect opportunity to return land that was unjustly stolen from the Bruce family. 

“SB 796 rights a wrong for a Black family who were deprived of their property because of their race. But it also sets an example for what meaningful reparations looks like, right as California considers the issue through the newly formed Reparations Task Force,” Bradford added.

“This is an unprecedented moment in America to show what the government can do to correct an injustice and actually deliver some economic justice. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly to quickly get this bill to the governor.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously April 20 to direct the county’s CEO to come up with a plan to return the property to the family and to support the bill, the passage of which is required to make the transfer possible. The county-owned portion of the land in question houses a lifeguard training center, but restrictions on the land mean it cannot be returned to the Bruce family unless the state legislation is approved.

I want to thank our state senators who voted for this important legislation and have supported Los Angeles County’s effort to return the Bruce’s Beach property to the Bruce family nearly a century after it was stolen from them,” said county Supervisor Janice Hahn, who has been leading the effort to transfer the now-county-owned parcel. “It is my hope that once this legislation is signed into law, Los Angeles County can set an historic precedent for how we as a nation should go about beginning to atone for the sins of our past.”

The bill still needs to be approved by the state Assembly and signed by the governor.

 The public seizure of the Bruce’s Beach property has long stained the history of Manhattan Beach, particularly in the past year amid a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice.

Willa and Charles Bruce purchased land in 1912 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 moved to condemn their property and other surrounding parcels in 1924, 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 ultimately lost their land in 1929.

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.

The city park that now sits on a portion of the land seized by the city 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.