Los Angeles County leaders took initial steps Tuesday toward returning prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who built a resort for African Americans but were stripped of the land by local city officials a century ago.
The five-member Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to have the county chief executive’s office report back in 60 days with a plan on how to return the land and to have the county be a sponsor of state legislation that is needed to enable the transfer.
“We have the opportunity not only to right a wrong that happened right here in LA County but also to be an example to the rest of the nation on how government’s can begin to act now to correct historic injustices,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who is leading the effort.
The property that became known as Bruce’s Beach is along the shoreline in Manhattan Beach, now an upscale city along the southern end of Santa Monica Bay.
One of the descendants, Anthony Bruce, called in to the virtual meeting to urge the supervisors to “make it a reality.”
“Uphold justice for the Bruces and grant these motions,” he said.
The land was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for Black people at a time when many beaches were segregated.
They suffered racist harassment from white neighbors and in the 1920s the Manhattan Beach City Council took the land away through eminent domain under the ruse of needing it for a park.
The city did nothing with the property, however, and it eventually was transferred to the state in 1948.
In 1995, the state transferred it to the county, which built its lifeguard training headquarters on the site.
That transfer came with restrictions on further transfers that can only be lifted through state legislation. A bill to do that was introduced in the state Senate last week.
If the law passes, the transfer to the descendants of the Bruces would have to go back before the Board of Supervisors for final approval.
The current Manhattan Beach City Council recently formally acknowledged and condemned their predecessors’ efforts to displace the Bruces and several other Black families in the area, but stopped short of formally apologizing.
The lifeguard building sits along The Strand, a popular oceanfront walkway where many of the once-modest beach houses have given way to multistory luxury residences.
A return of the land could involve the county leasing it back from the descendants or moving the lifeguard facility elsewhere, according to Hahn.