Descendants of a black family who built a seaside resort not far from Los Angeles over a century ago, in which their property was unrightfully taken by racist policies, will finally have their land returned to their family. This announcement comes Friday from officials.
The county of Los Angeles is set to return the prime beachfront property in Manhattan Beach, in which this property is worth over $72 million to descendants of the black couple.
Willa and Charles Bruce built this seaside resort for African Americans. The Bruce story was recently made aware to a Los Angeles County Supervisor who started researching this situation earlier this year on what could be done to make things right in regard to what happened to this couple, according to news reports.
Advocates have been speaking on behalf of the family continuing to share their story. The descendants have also continued to speak about the injustice that their ancestors endured.
Willa and Charles Bruce, along with their son travelled from New Mexico in the early 1900s and was part of the first black settlers that would later become the city of Manhattan Beach.
“It is in the county’s best intertest to return this property,” said Janice Hahn, who is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who first started looking into this issue, announcing the news at a press conference held on Friday.
In addition to the press conference, the city of Manhattan Beach also released a statement acknowledging and condemning the city’s actions that stemmed back from the early 20th century. However, the city neglected to make a formal apology apart of that statement.
The property is now known as Bruch Beach. It has a county lifeguard training headquarters building located on site. The property also has two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce. The couple were the first to build a West Coast resort for black people during a tough time where segregation banned Blacks from many beaches.
The Bruce’s’ also build a lodge, café, dance hall, and dressing tents allowing bathing suits to be rented out.
“The property became a place for black families to be able to vacation from far and wide to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a day at the beach,” Hahn said.
However, this luxury did not last long.
Willa and Charles were continuously harassed by white neighbors, as well as the Ku Klux Klan trying to burn it down on several occasions.
Charles often had to travel out of town due to having a job as a dining car chef on trains that traveled to Salt Lake City. Willa bought the property and primarily handled most of the business at the resort.
Willa purchased the first two lots between 26th and 27th streets for a sum of $1225.
“Wherever we have tried to buy land for a beach resort, we have been refused,” she told reporters at the Los Angeles Times back in 1912.
“But I own this land and I am going to keep it,’” she added.
The Manhattan Beach City Council utilized eminent domain to take the land away from Willa and Charles Bruce in the 1920, allegedly for use as a park.
Eminent domain is when a body of the government takes private land to be used for the public, for example to build an infrastructure like a highway.
The Bruce’s fought hard in court against the eminent domain order, but unfortunately, they lost their case. The city paid Willa and Charles $14,500 and was forced out of their beach and lost their business as well.
“and this was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep this property and their successful business. The Bruce’s had their California Dream stolen from the,” said Hahn, the county supervisor.
Even the value of the property has of yet to be assessed, homes along the sea front, known as “The Strand”, regularly sell for around $20 million, according to officials.
Estimates however say that the land alone is worth over $72 million dollars.
The family have not released any information as to whether they will sell the property to developers or if the are going to keep the resort in the family.
The descendants to have an option to lease the land back to the county for continued use, however no decisions have been made at this time.
This case brought on anger to the black community back in the 1900’s. Members of the NAACP joined hands for a “swim-in” to fight for their right to the sea in 1927. A number of black beachgoers were arrested that year.
Anthony Bruce, 38 who is one of the descendants of Willa and Charles is saying that it is time to correct the long-awaited correction that was snatched from their family.
“I just want justice for my family,” he told news reporters.
Anthony Bruce now resides in Florida and remembers visiting the land in California he ancestors once owned.
Another descendant of the Bruce’s described what happened back in 1920 left a permanent scar on his family.
“what we want is restoration of our land to us, and restitution for the loss of revenues,” said Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, 69, a relative of Willa and Charles Bruce who resides in Los Angeles and is also a chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.
“It has been a scar on the family, financially and emotionally,” he added.
“We’ve been stripped of any type of legacy, and we’re not only the family that this has happened to,” said Shepard. “It’s happened all over the United States.”
Just last month the city of Evanston in Illinois became the first city to say it would pay reparations to black homeowners in acknowledging the fact of the horrors of slavery.
The resort sat unused for years. The land eventually had been transferred to the state of California in 1948. In 1955 it was then transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations and to be maintained.
The last transfer in 1955 prevent the sell or transfer of property, however, it can be lifted through a new state law, Hahn said.
State Senator Steven Bradford released in a statement Monday that he will be introducing legislation, SB 796, which would exempt the land from those previous restrictions.
“After so many years, we will right this injustice,” Bradford added.
If this law indeed passes, the transfer to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce would have to then be approved by the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors, said Liz Odendahl, Hahn’s director of communications.
Manhattan Beach has turned into a very affluent city of about 35,000 people within the Los Angeles County on the south shire of Santa Monica Bay.
According to the Census Bureau the population of Manhattan beach is 78 percent white and 0.5 percent black.
The current City Council this week formally acknowledged and condemned what the city leaders did in the early 20th century to dislocate the Bruce’s and several other black families, but also stopped short of an apology.
“We offer this Acknowledgement and Condemnation as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years,’ a document approved by the council stated.
‘And the actions we will take together, to the best of our abilities, indeed and in words, to reject prejudice and hate and promote respect and inclusion.