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11 • 16 • 2021

Bruce’s Beach Finally Returned Back To Bruce Family

By Mandy Sackett

SB 796 was enacted! The bill returns property to the Bruce Family after the state seized it in a fit of racism. 

This bill was signed into law on September 30, 2021 by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce, a Black couple, purchased beachfront property in Manhattan Beach and built a resort that served Black residents. Their resort provided Black residents a place free of the harassment and threats by white residents, including the KKK, that they faced at other beaches. But racist practices prevailed and the Manhattan Beach City Council seized the property using eminent domain in 1924, purportedly to create a park (it remained vacant for decades).   

The city eventually transferred the property the Bruce family once owned to the state, which transferred it in 1995 to Los Angeles County. It is currently the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. 

Senator Bradford introduced SB 796 that would exempt the Bruce’s Beach property from statuary restrictions on the transference and use of that land to enable the County of Los Angeles to transfer the land to the descendants of its rightful owners, the late Willa and Charles Bruce.

From Senator Bradford’s office:

“In 1912, Charles and Willa Bruce created the West Coast’s first beach resort owned by and meant for Black Americans. Under their leadership, Bruce’s Beach became a lively and flourishing resort. But their success was unjustly stolen. When harassment, hostility and violence by the Ku Klux Klan weren’t enough to coerce them to leave, the City seized the land,” said Senator Steven Bradford. “The property that the Bruce’s purchased for $1,225 is now worth $75 million. We stand here today to introduce a bill that will correct this gross injustice and allow the land to be returned to the Bruce family. It is my hope that this legislation will not be the last in a series of actions by the state to address centuries of atrocious actions against Black Americans. I commend Supervisor Hahn for her continued dedication to this issue. She exemplifies a true profile in courage. I look forward to working with all the LA County Supervisors to finally right this wrong.”

Returning the property to the family required action by the state. When the property was transferred from the state to the county in 1995, the state imposed restrictions that limit the county’s ability to transfer the property. SB 796 also exempts the Bruce’s Beach property from statuary restrictions on the transference and use of that land to enable the County of Los Angeles to transfer the land to the descendants of its rightful owners, the late Willa and Charles Bruce. 

The legislation is an urgency bill which means that it can go into effect as soon as it is passed and signed into law by the Governor. The Surfrider Foundation, as well as other environmental and justice organizations, urged the passage and signing of this bill – see our support letter here. This bill was passed into law on September 30, 2021 by California Governor Gavin Newsom, a small but important victory towards addressing historic and systemic racism on the California Coast and beyond.

Read more in the LA Times, Daily News and a great background in LAist.