Bruce’s Beach was one of the few beaches in Southern California in the early 1900s that was not off-limits to African Americans. Manhattan Beach used imminent domain to force Willa and Charles Bruce, the city’s first Black landowners, off the land where they lived and had developed.
ABC reported L.A County Supervisor Janice Hahn is exploring options to restore justice for the family, including giving the land back, paying for what they lost or leasing the property from them so a lifeguard building that was put there can remain at the location.
“I wanted the county of Los Angeles to be a part of righting this terrible wrong.,” Hahn said.
Anthony Bruce, one of the family’s last living direct descendants now living in Florida, says the seizure robbed him of his family’s legacy.
Willa and Charles Bruce bought the property in the strand area for $1,225, that was set aside from Henry Willard in 1912, and added on three lots. They established a resort and named it for Mrs. Bruce. It provided the African American community with opportunities unavailable at other beach areas because of segregation.
The development included a bathhouse and dining house for blacks, whose access to public beaches was highly restricted. Aside from the blacks-only beach resort, Manhattan Beach was “an otherwise lily-white community” and blacks only had limited access to beaches.
Mrs. Bruce’s initiative “defiantly transgressed these racial boundaries.” It was not the only beach attraction available to black people; there was also Peck’s Pier and pavilion on 34th Street, a section of Santa Monica State Beach referred to as the “Ink Well”, and the Pacific Beach Club in Orange County.
As Los Angeles’s population increased and property values soared in the 1920s, black people in the area suffered from increased racial tension, before eminent domain proceedings started by the city forced the club to close down.
In the 1920s, the resort was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to get the city to take back the land from the rightful owners, the Bruce family. Under the pretense of building a city park, the city of Manhattan Beach did take the land away from the Bruce family, and African Americans were run off the land. It was not until 2007, practically eighty years later, that this travesty was acknowledged by the city and the beach was renamed Bruce’s Beach.
In the 1950s, city officials began to worry that family members might sue to regain their land unless it was used for the purpose for which it had been originally taken. In the 1960s, the property, which had been vacant for decades, was made into a city park first called Bayview Terrace Park, then Parque Culiacan.
In 2006, the Manhattan Beach City Council decided to rename the park, “commemorating our community’s understanding that friendship, goodwill and respect for all begins within our own boundaries and extends to the world community.
It was ceremoniously renamed to Bruce’s Beach in March 2007 during an event exhibiting “a deep tide of goodwill.” The park is on a slope overlooking the ocean and includes rolling grassy terraces with benches and small trees. It is located a few blocks from the beach, between 26th and 27th Street, and runs west from Highland Avenue to Manhattan Avenue.
The City Project worked with Bernard Bruce, the Bruce’s grandson, to change the name back to Bruce’s Beach in the 2007.- # Bruce’s Beach
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