A 'Surprise Twist' in the Story of a 1924 California Land Grab

After being returned to Bruce family hands, Bruce's Beach will now be sold back to LA
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2022 8:40 AM CDT
Updated Jan 4, 2023 1:51 AM CST
California Beach Taken From Black Family Is Returned
Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is pictured on April 8, 2021.   (Dean Musgrove/The Orange County Register via AP, File)
UPDATE Jan 4, 2023 1:51 AM CST

Six months after two parcels of beachfront property were returned to the heirs of the Black family from whom it was stolen in 1924, those heirs are selling the property back to Los Angeles County. The LA Times calls the move a "surprise twist" in the Bruce's Beach deal. The agreement between the county and the Bruce family included a two-year period of time in which the family could sell the Manhattan Beach property back to the county for $20 million, and they decided to exercise that clause. A lawyer for the family says none of the descendants live in southern California, and they decided they'd rather have the money to invest. "What was stolen from the family was the property, but what the property represented was the ability to create and preserve and group and pass down generational wealth," he says.

Jun 29, 2022 8:40 AM CDT

The "right thing to do" has been done. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to a plan that will see Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach returned to the heirs of the Black family that was run off the land in 1924. The Los Angeles Times calls it an "unprecedented plan" consisting of "legal, legislative, and very complicated real estate details." Once the property exits escrow and is officially in the Bruce family's hands, the county will begin renting it for $413,000 a year. The AP reports the site is home to the county's lifeguard training facility and parking lot, and will continue to be used as such. The family retains the option to sell it to the county for $20 million.

Bruce family lawyer George Fatheree told the board that "to our knowledge, this is the first time the government has returned property to a Black family after acknowledging it had been improperly taken. We’re hopeful that it will not be the last." Starting in 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce owned a couple of lots along the beach where they operated a lodge, café, and dance hall. People called it Bruce’s Beach. The resort was the first seaside resort along the West Coast specifically for Black guests. Other Black families established cottages nearby. All endured harassment from the KKK and others until 1924, when the city used eminent domain to seize two dozen properties, giving the need for a park as the reason.

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"It is well documented that this move was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful Black business and its patrons," the board said in a motion last week, per the New York Times. The Bruces' oceanfront lots went unused and were ultimately transferred to the state in 1948 and the county in 1995. Great-great-grandson Anthony Bruce says the damage to the family echoed through the generations. Rather than build generational wealth, Willa and Charles' son Bernard, his grandfather, lived a life marked by extreme anger over what had transpired, and Bernard's son ended up leaving the state, "tormented by this history." (More California stories.)

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