On Tuesday, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to return ownership of prime California beachfront property to descendants of a black couple who built a resort for African Americans but were stripped of the land in the 1920s.
The board voted 5-0 on a motion to complete the transfer of parcels in an area once known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach, which is now the site of the county’s lifeguard training headquarters and its parking lot.
Co-author of the motion and Board chair, Holly J. Mitchell, signed the documents immediately which allowed the country to lease back the property with an option to purchase it for millions of dollars.
Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the land in 1912, and in the 1920s the Manhattan Beach City Council took the land through eminent domain. The city made no actions with the property and it was transferred to the state of California in 1948.
The state transferred it to the county in 1955, with restrictions on further transfers.
In April 2021, Supervisor Janice Hahn launched the complex process of returning the property to the heirs of the Bruces. A key obstacle was overcome when the state legislature passed a bill removing the restriction on the transfer of the property.
Just last month, the county completed the process of confirming that Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce, are the legal heirs.
“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,” an emotional Hahn said before the vote.
Hahn stated that returning the property will allow the heirs “the opportunity to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied them for decades.”
A family spokesman, Anthony Bruce, said in a statement that the return means the world to them but it is also bittersweet.
“My great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce sacrificed to open a business that gave Black people a place to gather and socialize, and Manhattan Beach took it from them because of the color of their skin,” he said. “It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance at the American Dream.”