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LA County Returns Bruce's Beach — Now Worth $20 Million — To Black Family It Belonged To Nearly 100 Years Ago

BRUCE'S BEACH HISTORY
A person reads a plaque at Bruce's Beach in April 2021.
(Patrick T. Fallon
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Nearly a century after it was seized from a prominent Black family, the oceanside property known as Bruce's Beach is officially being returned to the descendants of its original owners.

L.A. County Supervisors unanimously approved the handover plan Tuesday, following a lengthy process of negotiations and approval from state lawmakers.

The Manhattan Beach property once belonged to Willa and Charles Bruce, who ran a popular resort that was one of the few places in L.A. County where Black families could enjoy the beach. But the Bruces faced racist threats from neighbors, and their property was eventually seized - through eminent domain — for a pittance — in 1924.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who kickstarted the process to return the property, says the transfer will allow the Bruce's descendants to rebuild the wealth their family has long been denied.

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"We can't change the past," Hahn said. "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."

As part of the deal, the property, which is worth an estimated $20 million dollars, will be rented out to the county for $413,000 a year.

"This is but one step in our effort to acknowledge true American history, and not deny it, and ways in which government can step up and think outside of the box about how we repay and return properties to its rightful owners," said Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

The Family

Great-great grandson Anthony Bruce remembers the first time he visited the property with his father, who took him up to a high hill that looked out onto the ocean.

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

"He said, 'This is our property, and one day, you're gonna have to fight to get it back,'" Bruce said. "And so we did make sure to keep that family fight going."

Now, the fight is over.

In recent years, local activists brought attention to the beach's history. After the nationwide racial reckoning surrounding the murder of George Floyd, Hahn initiated steps to return the land.

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Anthony Bruce said while his family plans to lease the property back to the county for now, it may sell it in the future.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to receive some more inheritance from that, the generational wealth — because this is something that our family was really robbed of," Bruce said.

Bruce hopes his family's story opens the door for other families looking to get their land returned, he said.

"Getting to this point has required sacrifices from the Bruce family that can never be repaid," Mitchell said in a statement ahead of the vote. "Although we cannot change the past, we have a responsibility to learn from it and to do what is right today."

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Updated June 28, 2022 at 4:03 PM PDT
This article was updated with additional information and quotes.