Prime California beachfront real estate set to return to Black family nearly a century after government seizure

·National Reporter and Producer
·4-min read

A Manhattan Beach, Calif., shoreline property seized from a Black family in 1924 is set to be returned to the descendants of the original owners.

The California Legislature unanimously approved a measure allowing Los Angeles County to return the property to the family of Willa and Charles Bruce. The Bruce family operated a thriving resort there known as Bruce’s Beach, which catered to Black patrons in the early 20th century.

The bipartisan bill now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is expected to approve it soon.

The land in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where the Bruce family ran a resort on the strand in the 1920s that was popular with Black beachgoers.
The land in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where the Bruce family ran a resort on the strand in the 1920s that was popular with Black beachgoers. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Supporters of the bill hoped it would reach Newsom before his upcoming recall election and before the legislature took its fall recess. Once he signs it, the county will need to take another vote to make the transfer official.

“Governor, I’m urging you to sign this bill and sign it at Bruce’s Beach. I know it would mean so much to all of us — especially members of the Bruce family,” tweeted Janice Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who has been pushing for the return of the land to its rightful owners.

In April this year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announces the process of returning Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach to the family of Willa and Charles Bruce. California State Sen. Steven Bradford, right, was the author of SB 796, which would allow the land to be returned to surviving members of the Bruce family. Los Angeles Supervisor Holly Mitchell stands center.
In April this year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announces the process of returning Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach to the family of Willa and Charles Bruce. California State Sen. Steven Bradford, right, was the author of SB 796, which would allow the land to be returned to surviving members of the Bruce family. Los Angeles Supervisor Holly Mitchell stands center. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce, a young Black couple, purchased the beautiful oceanfront property in Manhattan Beach. The resort they built created one of the few, small strips of beach in the Los Angeles area where diverse visitors could enjoy the sand and water as well as hang out, eat and dance.

But some white residents –– including members of the Ku Klux Klan –– resented the success of Bruce’s Beach and would put up signs attempting to deter beachgoers. The harassment, however, didn’t stop Bruce’s Beach from remaining successful, which is when the local government stepped in.

A photograph of Charles and Willa Bruce is part of a memorial to Emmett Till, located in front of a commemorative plaque at Bruce's Beach, a park located in Manhattan Beach. Till was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
A photograph of Charles and Willa Bruce is part of a memorial to Emmett Till, located in front of a commemorative plaque at Bruce's Beach, a park located in Manhattan Beach. Till was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to strip the Bruce family of their land. It said this was being done to build a park, but the park wasn’t created for decades afterwards.

“It wasn’t just an injustice inflicted on Willa and Charles Bruce,” Hahn told Yahoo News in July. “It was inflicted on a generation of Bruces, who would have been millionaires today if they [had] been allowed to keep this beachfront property.”

The property was eventually transferred to the state of California. The state later handed it over to Los Angeles County, with the stipulation that it couldn’t be given away or sold. Hence the need for legislation to give it back to the Bruce family.

Residents of Los Angeles had been pushing for the return of Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family. Kavon Ward, a L.A. resident and mother, created an organization called “Justice for Bruce’s Beach” and raised awareness of the land’s seizure during a Juneteenth event in 2020.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, Sr., gives an impassioned speech in Los Angeles in April, calling for the return of the land that used to belong to his family. He is flanked by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, left, California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi.
Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, Sr., gives an impassioned speech in Los Angeles in April, calling for the return of the land that used to belong to his family. He is flanked by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, left, California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a distant relative of Willa and Charles Bruce who has acted as a spokesman for the family, told Yahoo News he was “elated” that the Legislature had approved the return of Bruce’s Beach.

“The family and I are elated at the outcome and prayerful that the governor will sign it as soon as possible so we can move on to the next steps in making the transfer happen, which will involve working with the County of Los Angeles and our legal teams to ensure a smooth and permanent transition,” he said.

A couple sit on the lifeguard tower between 26th and 27th Streets at Bruce's Beach, which is part of the Bruce property.
A couple sit on the lifeguard tower between 26th and 27th Streets at Bruce's Beach, which is part of the Bruce property. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Bruce’s Beach –– which is now thought to be worth as much as $75 million, according to CNN –– is currently home of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. The county is planning to lease the land from Anthony Bruce, the direct descendant expected to inherit it.

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