A California beach-front property has been returned to a Black family almost 100 years after it was seized through eminent domain.
Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the land on the sands of Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County in 1912 and built a resort for Black people amid segregation. They endured racial harassment. In one instance, the Ku Klux Klan tried to burn the resort down, but the Bruces still ran a successful business until the city took the land in 1924.
Eminent domain allows the government to acquire private land for public use. Manhattan Beach officials at the time said they wanted to build a public park, but the land remained mostly abandoned until the 1960s. On July 20, 2022, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan handed back the deed for the land to Anthony Bruce, a great-great-grandson of the Bruces, about 98 years after it was seized.
The land transfer to the Bruces’ legal heirs was prompted by a two-year fight by the family and activists. Kavon Ward founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach, a grassroots movement to restore the land to its rightful owners in 2020.
“I had a vision, a vision which has been fully realized today,” Ward said during the land transfer ceremony Wednesday. “A vision that what was once taken from a people (would) be returned. A vision that something that had never been done before in history happened for the first time I had a vision.”
The resort, which was once a safe space for Black people with a dance hall, cafe and lodge, is no longer on the grounds. The city demolished Bruce Beach in 1929, and the spot remained vacant.
The city transferred the property to the state in 1948, and the state eventually passed it on it to the county. The Los Angeles Times reported that in the 1950s, city officials were concerned that family members would sue to retrieve the property since it had not been used for its intended purpose. So they finally built a park in the 1960s.
While under the leadership of its first Black official, Manhattan Beach acknowledged its history of racial discrimination and renamed the land Bruce’s Beach in March 2007. Still, the county made an agreement more than a decade earlier that prohibited it from transferring the property. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in October that reversed the legal bound.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to return the property on June 28. The Bruces’ great-grandsons, Marcus and Derrick Bruce, have formed a company to hold the property. The county currently houses a training facility on the grounds and will lease it for 24 months from the family for $413,000 plus all operation and maintenance costs. The county can also buy the land valued at $20 million.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, who proposed the bill needed to transfer the land, said it restores generational wealth to the Bruce family, which was denied for decades “simply because they were Black in America.”
It is “a bold step in the right direction” to address the injustice that he hopes other states will follow,” Bradford said.
“We cannot change the injustices that were done, or people in the past. But we owe it to the future generations to eliminate structural and systemic racism that still clearly exists today,” he said.