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Bruce's Beach Was Taken Away From A Black Family. It's One Step Closer To Being Returned

An image of Manhattan Beach Pier.
Manhattan Beach Pier
(Chava Sanchez
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A stretch of beachfront property in Manhattan Beach that was taken from a prominent local Black family a century ago is one step closer to being returned.

A bill — SB 796 — to transfer what's known as Bruce's Beach back to the family's descendants cleared the state Senate Thursday and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk for his signature.

The property was developed by Willa and Charles Bruce back in 1912. It was the first oceanside resort for Black people in an era when they were barred from many local beaches.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn was among the officials pushing for the return of the property to the family.

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How Bruce's Beach Was Taken Away

Manhattan Beach used eminent domain laws to seize the Bruce family's land, where it had a thriving beach resort. As Hahn explains, the land seizure was the final shove, after years of harassment by the Klu Klux Klan failed to push the Black community out of the area.

"They slashed people's tires, the KKK even attempted to set the Bruce Lodge on fire and succeeded in burning down a local Black family's home near this property," Hahn said.

An archival image of Charles in Willie Bruce photographed in elegant suit and dress, respectively.
Charles and Willie Bruce, 1886.
(Courtesy of the California African American Museum.)

Back in the 1920s, Manhattan Beach agreed to pay Willa and Charles Bruce about $14,000 for their property, a fraction of its worth by today's standards. To make matters worse, the family's lawyer says the city took years to make that payment, forcing them to leave without any income.

They were then barred from purchasing new land.

The excuse Manhattan Beach gave for removing the Bruce family's business, and the surrounding Black community, was the need for a public park. But the land sat empty for decades before a park was built.

Today, in addition to that small park, the L.A. County Fire Department has its lifeguard training headquarters on the land.

Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard is a descendent and representative of the Bruce Family. He says when the land and business were taken away, the family was robbed of the chance to build generational wealth.

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