Bill would return Manhattan Beach land seized from Black couple century ago

Willa and Charles Bruce ran oceanside resort for Black families barred from public beaches

Los Angeles /
Apr.April 15, 2021 10:08 AM
The Bruce family built the resort for Black families who were barred from other beaches in the early 1900s. (Getty)
The Bruce family built the resort for Black families who were barred from other beaches in the early 1900s. (Getty)

Nearly 100 years ago, Manhattan Beach city officials seized land from a Black couple who operated it as a beachside resort for Black families barred from public beaches and other businesses.

Now, a state bill seeks to return that land to family descendants of the wife and husband, Willa and Charles Bruce, according to the Los Angeles Times. The property, which L.A. County controls, could be worth $75 million, CNN reported.

State Sen. Steven Bradford introduced a measure this week to allow the county to transfer the oceanfront land, known as Bruce’s Beach, back to the Bruce family, according to the Times.

In the early 1900s, the Bruces bought the land parcels and opened their resort. Black families as far away as San Diego County — with no other options open to them — drove hours to spend time at the resort, which included a lodge, cafe, and dance hall, according to reports.

The Bruce family was frequent targets of racist threats and harassment. The Ku Klux Klan reportedly set fire to a mattress under the main deck at Bruce Beach and also burned down a nearby home owned by another Black family.

In 1924, Manhattan Beach city officials seized about two-dozen properties in the neighborhood through eminent domain, under the guise of an urgent need for a public park. The property sat vacant for years; was transferred to the state in 1948. It wasn’t until the 1960s that some of the seized parcels were actually turned into a park, the Times reported.

The county now operates part of the property as a lifeguard station. The bill does not restrict the use of the site should it change hands. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the county has been in discussions with the family about what to do following a transfer, and said the county would seek to lease it.

[LAT, CNN] —Dennis Lynch 


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