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Government - State National

Bruce’s Beach


On the west coast of the U.S., a writing of past wrongs is occurring as California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law last week allowing ownership of a prime beachfront property to be transferred to heirs of a couple who built a resort for Black people in the early 1900s, but were stripped of the land by local officials.

The property that sits along the south shore of Santa Monica Bay encompasses two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, The Bruces built the first West Coast resort for Black people at a time when segregation barred them from many beaches. It included a lodge, cafe, dance hall and dressing tents. 

White neighbors harassed the Bruces, and there was an attempt to burn down the resort. The white Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to take the land from the Bruces in the 1920s, purportedly for use as a park. The land lay unused for years and was transferred to the state in 1948. In 1995, it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. It came with restrictions limiting the ability to sell or transfer the property, which could only be lifted through a new state law.

In Manhattan Beach, now an upscale Los Angeles seaside suburb, the population of 35,000 is more than 84% white and 0.8% Black, as described by the city’s website.

Legislation was unanimously approved by state lawmakers this month which is necessary to allow the start of the complex legal process of transferring ownership of what was once known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach. Owned by Los Angeles County, the City Council formally condemned the efforts of their early 20th century predecessors to displace the Bruces and several other Black families.

Steps needed to move forward with the transfer have been outlined including assessing the value of the parcels and trying to find a means to lessen the tax burden on the heirs. The county also needs to vet the legal heirs of the Bruces and possibly find a new site for the lifeguard training headquarters that currently sits on a portion of the property. One option would have the heirs lease the land back to the county for continued use.

With a half-dozen descendants of the couple present, Newsom apologized for how the land was taken before signing the bill during a ceremony at the property. He suggested the move could be the start of broader reparations.


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