Story at a glance
- An area of Manhattan Beach called “Bruce’s Beach” was once the site of a lively and joyous Black-owned and operated hotel.
- The couple who owned the hotel had their property seized by city officials after years of racist threats and harassment.
- Local officials are attempting to provide reparations to the descendants of the couple and introduced a bill that might make history in the process.
California state and Los Angeles County legislators are trying to provide justice for the descendants of a Black couple who owned a beach resort in Manhattan Beach, before the property was torn from them during the Jim Crow era.
More than a century ago in 1912, Willa Bruce purchased lots along the beach for $1,225 and ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall that provided local Black families a way to enjoy their weekends on the coast during a time of strict racial segregation. The area was referred to by locals as Bruce’s Beach, and other Black families were drawn to move there as well.
Angered by the incoming diversity, members of the Ku Klux Klan threatened and harassed the Bruces and their guests for years, purportedly setting fire to a mattress under the main deck and even torching a nearby Black-owned home.
Then, in 1924, the city seized the property along with more than two dozen others through eminent domain. The reason they gave was a supposedly urgent need for a public park. The Bruces left and unfortunately died just five years later.
On Friday, April 9, an effort was announced to return land to Black families in Manhattan Beach, the first instance nationwide of such reparations.
Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, along with State Sen. Steve Bradford and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, shared plans during a Friday morning briefing to return a strip of prime Manhattan Beach real estate to the descendants of the original Black property owners, who were denied their chance of building generational wealth when the land was taken from their family.
A state bill is being introduced today that will allow county officials to transfer nearly seven thousand square feet of beachfront land to the descendants of the land’s prior owners, should it be approved.
“When I realized that the County of Los Angeles now had ownership of the Bruces’ original property, I wanted to do what I could to start righting this wrong,” said Hahn. “I felt there was nothing else to do but to give the property back to the direct descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.”
The bill by Bradford would give the county the necessary authority to transfer the land to the Bruces’ descendants, and Bradford has said it could land on the governor’s desk for signing by the beginning of summer. Ready to get things in motion, Hahn said she plans to introduce a motion to kickstart the county’s role in transferring the land as early as April 20.
“Now is the time for major change,” said Bradford, “and the public wants to see justice done — not hollow lip service.”
Should everything go according to plan, the land will find its way into the hands of Duane Shepard, an extended descendant and representative for the Bruce family.
“I am from the generation that Charles and Willa Bruce prayed for, and we’re going to stay here until the job is done,” Shepard said. “We want restoration of our land, restitution for the loss of enterprise and punitive damages for the collusion of the institutional racism in this city that railroaded our family out of here.”
While plans for the future remain in flux, Shepard shared that one goal he has after gaining possession of the land is to have “a weeklong family reunion with 3,000 Black Bruces — right here on this beach.”
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