Plan to return Bruce’s Beach gets unanimous approval

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an unprecedented plan to return Bruce’s Beach to a black family evicted from Manhattan Beach nearly a century ago. †

In a heartfelt moment during Tuesday’s board meeting, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn pondered all the legal, legislative and (very complicated) real estate details that needed to be worked out to rectify a mistake that had caused a move and the country.

“We’re finally here today,” said Hahn, who launched the complex process more than a year ago. “We cannot change the past, and we will never be able to right the wrongs done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago. But this is a start, and it’s the right thing to do.”

The property is now going into escrow before being officially handed over to the Bruce family. Once transferred, the county has agreed to rent the property from the Bruces for $413,000 per year and keep its lifeguard facility there.

The lease also includes a right for the county to purchase the land at a later date for $20 million, plus any associated transaction costs.

In a public address to the board, George Fatheree, a real estate transaction attorney representing the Bruce family pro bono, thanked the many district leaders and staff “who have worked tirelessly to get to this point today… to do the right thing.”

“To our knowledge, this is the first time the government has returned property to a black family after acknowledging it was taken illegally,” he said. “We are hopeful that it will not be the last.”

The return of Bruce’s Beach has paved a useful way forward for other cities and states looking to atone for past wrongs. Many point to the country’s history of violent dispossession of indigenous peoples and the eviction of entire communities of color from prime real estate.

Tuesday’s decisive move shows what is possible when the political will exists — and when the public pushes for accountability, said Effie Turnbull Sanders, who has spent more than 20 years advancing the rights of disadvantaged communities and currently serves as environmental law commissioner of the California Coastal Commission.

“We see now, taking the example of Bruce’s Beach, that if we want as a society, we… can find a legal way to bring about justice,” she said. “We can find a way to make sure we don’t perpetuate the structural inequalities that have existed in this country for centuries.”

The story of Bruce’s Beach begins with the Tongva people, who cared for this stretch of coast for millennia before white developers acquired their claim in the early 1900s and built what is known today as Manhattan Beach.

By 1912, Charles and Willa Bruce were on their way to California. Willa bought two lots right on the sand and ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall that gave black beachgoers a rare welcome. A few more black families, drawn to this new neighborhood that came to be known as Bruce’s Beach, bought and built their own seaside cottages.

But the Bruces and their guests increasingly faced threats from white neighbors. The Ku Klux Klan and local brokers have reportedly devised ways to harass them.

When racism failed to drive this black beach community out of town, in 1924 city officials condemned the neighborhood and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domains. They said there was an urgent need for a public park.

But the buildings stood empty for decades. The two oceanfront lots owned by the Bruces were transferred to the state in 1948 and then to the county in 1995. As for the other lots, city officials eventually turned them into a nice park overlooking the ocean.

When Hahn realized that the county now owned the two lots that once housed the Bruce resort, she sprang into action. She joined forces with LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell and Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who convened state legislators and the governor to authorize the transfer of public property to private property.

A district team led by Thomas Faughnan and D’Artagnan Scorza, in conjunction with Fatheree, conducted a complicated appraisal and economic analysis to determine the property’s value. They also conducted lengthy genealogy studies. (More than 100 people went through the county legal heir process to verify they were related to Charles and Willa Bruce.)

Mitchell, chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, called on everyone to sign all paperwork immediately after the vote so that there would be no further delay in returning the property – but also emphasized that the county’s efforts to correct injustice undoing the past can’t end on Bruce’s Beach.

“I purposely emphasize the word ‘return,'” said Mitchell, whose office has worked with the Bruce family and a committee to place a sign at the property detailing the history of what happened. “Because today we don’t give property to anyone. We are returning property that was wrongfully taken from the Bruces on the basis of fear and hatred. … I intend to continue to take up arms with my elected colleagues to … tackle all forms of systemic racism that continue to plague American society.”

Kavon Ward, who has championed this goal through her grassroots movement Justice for Bruce’s Beach, echoed this sentiment and said more government leaders need to step up and make sure Bruce’s Beach is not a one-off.

“I trust the governor to set an example and do the right thing in the state of California so other states can repeat the successes,” said Ward, who has five other Black California families in Santa Monica, Palm Springs. helped, Coloma, Hayward and Canyon with similar stories to the Bruces. “To pull one family aside and not help the rest is not a good example.”

Across California, reparations advocates and Indigenous leaders welcomed the news on Tuesday, but emphasized that there is much more history to settle down.

“There is a long legacy of colonial injustice, and this is a great first step towards making reparations for this community. I really hope that other communities – including the local indigenous communities of Tongva, Acjachemen and Tataviam – will also be eligible for the future return of our ancestral land,” said Wallace Cleaves, who serves as president of the Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy.

Angela Mooney D’Arcy, head of the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, a grassroots group led by Indigenous people in California, said her organization supported the Bruce family’s justice but called on officials to mobilize local Indigenous communities. take those that have been omitted .

“It is critical that in addressing this important issue, you do not inadvertently perpetuate the eradication of another community that has also suffered great injustice at the hands of white supremacist, institutional-racist culture,” she said, stressing that these problems “must be addressed in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, because there can be no cure if healing for one community rests on erasing another community.”

In a letter to the county, she asked officials to indicate in their records that Bruce’s Beach is in the ancestral homelands of the Gabrielino Tongva people. She also urged county officials to develop a process to meet with local Indigenous leaders and form a task force “to identify, research and assess the ways in which current and future county-led efforts to bring about racial justice and healing.” can better inform, support and complement each other.”

For Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, the past two years have been a jumble of emotions.

What Manhattan Beach did nearly a century ago tore his family apart. Charles and Willa ended up as chefs serving other entrepreneurs for the rest of their lives. His grandfather Bernard, born a few years after his family fled the city, was obsessed with what was happening and lived his life “extremely angry at the world.” Bruce’s father, haunted by this history, had to leave California.

Bruce, a Florida safety supervisor, was thrust into the spotlight after Bruce’s Beach became a national story. It was painful for him to talk about his family’s history in public, but he was encouraged to see the growing movement of people asking for justice.

“Many families in the United States have been evicted from their homes and lands,” he said. “I hope these monumental events encourage such families to continue to trust and believe that one day they will get what they deserve. We hope that our country no longer accepts prejudice as acceptable behavior, and we must unite against it, because it has no place in our society today.”

Leave a Comment