Bruce’s Beach: L.A. County to Buy Land Seized from Black Family

The great-grandchildren of a Black couple whose beachfront property in Southern California was seized by local officials in 1924, and returned to the family last year, will sell it back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million, an official said on Tuesday.

The Manhattan Beach site once housed Bruce’s Lodge, a resort established in 1912 by the property’s owners, Willa and Charles Bruce, as a place where Black tourists could go to avoid harassment at a time of rampant discrimination against Black people in California and beyond. It was known informally as “Bruce’s Beach.”

Manhattan Beach officials condemned the property in 1924, paying the Bruces $14,500 and saying that they needed it for a public park. They ultimately left it undeveloped for more than three decades, and the couple lost a legal battle to reclaim it. The land was later transferred to Los Angeles County and now hosts a training center for lifeguards.

But three years ago, nationwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality led to a resurgence of local interest in the Bruce family’s campaign. And last July, after Los Angeles County and the California state legislature worked out the legal details, the county returned the property to the couple’s closest living heirs, their great-grandsons Derrick and Marcus Bruce.

Derrick and Marcus Bruce declined to comment on Wednesday through George Fatheree, a lawyer for the family.

Janice Hahn, who chairs the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said on Tuesday that the owners had decided to sell the property to the county for nearly $20 million, a value that her office said was determined through an appraisal process.

“This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow,” Ms. Hahn said on Twitter.

The county received notice of the sale from the family on Dec. 30, and the escrow process will likely be completed in 30 days, Liz Odendahl, a spokeswoman for Ms. Hahn’s office, said in an email on Tuesday evening. Members of the Bruce family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a relative who lives in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday night that the family was “very satisfied” with the sale price. He said they had wanted to sell the property because it is zoned only for public use.

“They had no choice but to sell it and take whatever they could get out of it, and use it to invest in some other way to develop their family wealth that they’ve lost,” said Mr. Shepard, a clan chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.

Kavon Ward, who founded a group called Justice for Bruce’s Beach in June 2020 to support the family’s calls for restitution, said in statement on Wednesday that she did not believe the Bruce family would find peace in their decision to part with the land.

“While I am disappointed the Bruces have chosen to sell the land, I understand their decision as the city of Manhattan Beach is anti-Black,” said Ms. Ward, who is also a founder of Where Is My Land, an organization that seeks to help secure restitution for Black families who have had land taken from them.

The property consists of two adjacent beachfront lots. Ms. Bruce purchased one of them in 1912 for $1,225 and the second eight years later for $10, Los Angeles County has said, noting that the first lot measures about 33 by 105 feet. Mr. Shepard said the two lots are identical.

A persistent question has been whether officials in Manhattan Beach, a city of about 34,000 people that was incorporated in 1912 and is 75 percent white, would issue a formal apology to the Bruce family.

“I think an apology would be the least that they can do,” Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, told The New York Times in 2021.

The couple, who moved to Manhattan Beach from New Mexico, were among the first Black people to settle in the area. They established their beachfront resort in the era of Jim Crow, amid a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activities across the United States and campaigns of white supremacist terror and lynchings in the South.

Two years ago, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted, 4 to 1, to adopt a “statement of acknowledgment and condemnation” that did not include an apology. The city’s mayor at the time, Suzanne Hadley, condemned the racism against the Bruces but said that an apology could increase the risk of litigation against the city.

Steve Napolitano, the current mayor, said in an email on Wednesday that he saw the sale as a win-win for both the family and the county, which will continue to operate a lifeguard training center on the property.

“Nothing about the transaction changes the past, but it will certainly help the future of the Bruce heirs and we wish them well,” he said.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.


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