Bruce’s Beach, located in Manhattan Beach City, sits on the southwest coast of Los Angeles and is known to enjoy clear skies and sunny weather all through the year.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to sign a bill today allowing the beachfront and plot land along the Southern California coast to be returned to the descendants of the Black married couple who had it seized in a racially motivated eminent domain claim nearly a century ago. The property was never utilized or transformed for the eminant domain’s specified purpose.

Bruce's Beach, Bruces beach

Story of Bruce’s Beach

Due to its precise location as well as its lawns that are ever manicured and overlook the shore, it is a site for yoga classes, children’s play dates, picnics, and many other fun recreational escapades.

The fact that Bruce’s Beach is just a two-minute walk from the shore of the sea makes it a pit—stop for many beach-goers. This is also facilitated by the fact that the three-acre field of green grass has plenty of tree shades, a basketball half-court as well as many benches.

At a first glimpse or even first reaction to Bruce’s Beach would be how breath-taking it is but there is more to this ocean-side retreat than meets the eye. For starters, one may be shocked to discover that Bruce’s Beach is the oldest park site in Manhattan.

On the park, grounds stands a commemorative plank on which some details go decades back about the origins of the park that has maintained one of the top positions as a favorite place for people to relax in Southern California.

Bruce’s Beach: Where did it all start?

In 1912, there was an ambitious and young married couple who were Charles and Willa Bruce. They moved to Manhattan from New Mexico and were professionals in the field of hospitality. Willa’s profession was as a gifted homemaker while her husband was a dining car chef.

The couple bought a portion of the land that Bruce’s Beach lies on. The couple then got three more portions to their original land and put their vision to work. The total cost of the land they bought was $1225. They were working towards building a resort that would be open to all African Americans. 

The rampant segregation practices back in those days restricted access to most beaches for black people. For this reason, the resort was warmly welcomed by many people who before the resort being opened had not had the chance to partake in the coastal beauty of the area.

The resort comprised rooms for the guests who stayed overnight, a snack stand, a dancehall, a café as well as a bathhouse where the African American families could, at last, enjoy surfing. The turnout of people who showed up at the resort to relax from Los Angeles was in thousands. They all came by Red Car as well as automobile.

George H. Peck, who was a wealthy land developer, bought the land that neighboured the resort around the same time as the Bruce family was purchasing their land. George having some maverick willpower for those times tossed out the norm of operations than of racial segregation and offered African Americans chances to purchase his plots.

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 Peck was also the founder and owner of Peck’s Pier, which in those days was the only pier that allowed African Americans access locally. Following his actions, African American families got the chance to purchase plots of land around Bruce’s Beach resort and could therefore build summer homes for themselves.

There were other black-owned businesses such as a hotel by the Slaughter family that was built near Bruce’s resort. It is through this that the area was able to grow until it became an import fixture of the black community of Manhattan’s beach.

The growth and development of the resort and area were brave of the blacks but were unfortunately met with a lot of disapproval. The white people who were in agreement with racial segregation and wanted it to be upheld would harass the Bruce family, the visitors they got at their resort as well as all the other surrounding black homeowners. Their cars would be vandalized and their tires slashed. 

In the 1920s, a lot of tension grew. The Ku Klux Klan gained a national uprising and also had a massive local following which led to them no longer being welcome in the town.

The harassment of African Americans escalated and so did their arrests. In 1924, the Bruce family was evacuated from their resort with the claims that it was deemed to serve as a public park. In 1927, a ‘swim in’ was organized by the NAACP. 

Charles and Willa Bruce

 They also arrested the African Americans on the count that they swam in the waters belonging to Manhattan beach although the members fought against these charges. The NAACP lost the case which then resulted to an overturn in terms of the condemnation of the city, and that meant that the beach was to be reopened without any more restrictions to the public.

In 1929, payments were made to black landowners to settle the matter. Willa Bruce got a payment of $14,500.

In 1995, the parcel of land where Bruce’s resort was built got transferred to state ownership and eventually to Los Angeles county. In 2007, which was 80 years later, the park got renamed to reflect its origins which were inspiring as well as the family that had done so much to bring equality and positive change to the city of Manhattan. The Lifeguard Training Center is currently what is on the property.

The most recent updates on Bruce’s Beach property

Earlier in April of 2021, the board of supervisors of the Los Angeles County Board all agreed that the process to transfer the beachfront property back to the rightful lineage and descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce was to begin. Also introduced was the statewide bill authored by Sen. Steven Bradford which can now allow the county of Los Angeles to finally return Bruce’s land to his descendants. 

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On the proposed legislation is an urgency clause that demands that the bill become immediately effective after Gov. Gavin Newson signs it. The full Senate is required to have voted on the issue by the 4th of June. The bill will then be moved to the Assembly which will have till the 10th of September to vote on it and have it taken to the Governor.

The Los Angeles County has however started issuing the transfer on its part. The County Board of Supervisors has given the county council, the executive director in charge of racial equality, the county CEO as well as the county chief a total of 60 days to report back to them with an effective plan for how they will deed back Bruce’s family their property.

This agenda to return Bruce’s Beach to his descendants is just but a part of the larger and broader push of California that is aimed at getting the city to reckon with its highly checkered past.

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