Home>Articles>Return of Bruce’s Beach to Original Owners in Manhattan Beach Clears Final Major Vote

Manhattan Beach (Photo: Evan Symon for California Globe)

Return of Bruce’s Beach to Original Owners in Manhattan Beach Clears Final Major Vote

LA County Supervisors vote unanimously to return Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family

By Evan Symon, June 29, 2022 2:30 am

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to give back Bruce’s Beach, located in the city of Manhattan Beach, back to the original owners after it had been taken away by the city 98 years ago.

The fight over ownership of the Beach dates back to 1912, when the African American Bruce family bought the beachfront property in Manhattan Beach, creating a resort that catered to black residents. Because most beaches at the time were unwelcome to black beachgoers, Bruce’s Beach quickly grew in popularity. However, for the next 12 years, many groups, including the KKK, continually threatened them, leading the Manhattan Beach City Council to take the beach by eminent domain in 1924.

Throughout the decades, control of the beach went between the city the state and the county before finalizing control by LA County in 1995, where it became the home of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. However, all of those years of transfers led to increased difficulty in legally transferring the property, with the 1995 transfer requiring that state legislation was needed to transfer the property once again.

In the early 2020’s, following the George Floyd incident and more calls for racial justice, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announced her intention of returning the beach back to the Bruce family, getting the support of Senator Bradford to introduce it in the Senate in 2021. Both houses in the California legislature approved of SB 796, which allowed the beach to be excluded from public use and let the LA County Board of Supervisors due with it as they see fit, with the strong suggestion that it goes back to the Bruce family. After Newsom signed the bill last September, one more major hurdle remained – County approval.

One hurdle was the lease agreement with the county, who hoped to maintain the beach for public use, as well as keep a critical lifeguard facility there. In a lease agreement between the Bruch family, who had moved from California shortly after the beach takeover in the 1920’s, and the County, they are to lease the beach for $413,000 a year, with the option to buy the land at a later date for $20 million.

With that set, a vote was set for June 20th. After the vote on Tuesday, Supervisor Hahn, who had largely spearheaded the movement to give back the beach, said that a wrong had been righted and that the beach could serve as a blueprint for future processes of land being given back from similar takeovers.

“We are finally here today,” said Hahn. “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, and it is the right thing to do. We see now, with the example of Bruce’s Beach, that if we want to as a society, we can find a legal way to effect justice. We can find a way to ensure that we don’t continue to perpetuate the structural inequalities that have existed for centuries in this country.”

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Holly Mitchell also added that “I intentionally emphasize the word ‘return’. “Because we aren’t giving property to anyone today. We are returning property that was erroneously taken from the Bruces based on fear and hate. I intend to continue to lock arms with my elected colleagues to address all forms of systemic racism that continue to plague American society.”

Bruce’s Beach to be returned

The Bruce family, which has stayed largely out of land issue as it became a national and international story, gave a rare statement on Tuesday.

“Many families across the United States have been forced away from their homes and lands,” said Anthony Bruce, a security supervisor from Florida. “I hope that these monumental events encourage such families to keep trusting and believing that they will one day have what they deserve. We hope that our country no longer accepts prejudice as an acceptable behavior, and we need to stand united against it, because it has no place in our society today.”

Others noted that, with the Bruce family deal now done, it could trigger the return of land to families, as well as reverse other eminent domain actions of the past.

“For many, this isn’t just about racial justice, but what this means for eminent domain,” explained Roger Calhoun, a land buyer and seller in California, to the Globe. “This was land that was wrongly taken and then given back. Take out the racial issue from it, no matter how big it may be to the decision. Multiple levels of government reversed a decision, on prime beachfront property.

“There are many other instances of land being taken from black, Native Americans, Chinese, Catholics, and many other disparaged groups throughout history. And a lot of areas have been worried about a lack of development or affordable housing. This could lead to some choice areas going back from government to private control. The possibilities are very exciting.”

Final handover of Bruce’s Beach is expected soon.

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Evan Symon
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