On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to transfer ownership of Bruce's Beach, a seaside property on Manhattan Beach, to the descendants of a Black family who had the real estate taken from them almost a century ago, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Per the decision, the beachfront property will be transferred from the county to the great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce, Marcus and Derrick Bruce, who purchased the land in 1912. The couple operated a resort for Black residents until the city of Manhattan Beach condemned the property to develop a public park.
Under the agreement, the Bruces will lease the land back to the county for $413,000 a year and the county will be responsible for “the continued operation of county lifeguard facilities at the site.” Additionally, the agreement includes special clauses that would permit the Bruces to sell the property at a later date to the county “for a price not to exceed $20 million.”
Anthony Bruce, a spokesman for the family, released a statement saying the return of the land was a “bittersweet” moment.
“My great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce sacrificed to open a business that gave Black people a place to gather and socialize, and Manhattan Beach took it from them because of the color of their skin,” he said. “It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance at the American Dream.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led the effort to return Bruce's Beach to the family said the move will allow the Bruces' descendants a chance "to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them."
"We can't change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start," Hahn said.
"We aren't giving property to anyone today," board chair Supervisor Holly Mitchell said. "We are returning property that was erroneously, and based on fear and hate, taken from them."
Mitchell said the Bruces "had the courage, the entrepreneurial spirit and vision to purchase beachfront property nearly 100 years ago," adding that they "welcomed Black patrons during a time when legal segregation in the great county of Los Angeles kept Black families from accessing what California is known for—our public beaches."
In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased their land for $1,225, eventually adding some other parcels of land, creating a beach resort that catered to Black residents.
Over time, the beachfront property became a target of racial violence such as vandalism on the buildings, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.
Following increasing pressure, the city moved to condemn Bruce’s property and the surrounding land 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 filed lawsuits claiming they were removed because of institutional racism. Although the Bruces were awarded some damages along with other families, they would never reopen their resort.
The city, which originally said the land was needed for a public park, allowed the land to remain unoccupied for decades. Eventually, the land was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995.
Hahn believes that the Bruce Beach case has established a new precedent and could lead to similar transactions across the nation.
“This may be the first land return of its kind, but it cannot be the last,” she said.