In 1912, Willa Bruce purchased oceanfront property along the strand in what today is Manhattan Beach. She ran a popular lodge, cafe, and dance hall — providing Black families a way to enjoy a weekend at the coast.
The area became known as Bruce's Beach, and more Black families moved in, buying cottages along the shore. But what happened next, was nothing short of criminal. LA Times reporter Rosanna Xia shared the story.
By the early 1920s, the White neighbors of this area in Manhattan Beach resented the Bruce's popularity. “Going back through historic records and oral history, I found that Black people reported tires being slashed, the KKK reportedly set fires to mattresses under the Bruce's deck, and torched another home nearby,” said Xia.
Ultimately, Manhattan Beach, with the pressure from White residents, condemned the entire neighborhood in 1924 and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domain. They said it was because they really needed a public park at the time, and the Bruce’s and three other Black families filed a lawsuit but did not win.
The city made it impossible for the Bruce’s to move their seaside resorts somewhere else, so they ended up leaving Manhattan Beach completely. This has impacted younger generations of the Bruce family.
“I had a really powerful conversation with Anthony Bruce, who is the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce. He talked to me about his grandfather Bernard, who was the grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, and he was angry for most of his life. Bernard grew up in South L.A., and there are stories about how he got laughed at in school when he told his classmates that his family used to own a beach resort, and they didn't believe him. Today, Anthony Bruce is in his 30s and he moved out of California to escape the pain and trauma of this story,” said Xia.
The takeover of Bruce’s Beach is just one example that prevented generations of people of color to acquire generational wealth.
“Some people in our country have been allowed to stay and build wealth, and pass down wealth to future generations. Others have been blocked from doing so. I think about how we condemned this entire Mexican-American owned community, known as Chavez Ravine, to build Dodger’s Stadium. I also think about how we pushed out a lot of Japanese-Americans during internment. It’s the uncomfortable history that we don’t talk about enough when we talk about what we’re dealing with today,” added Xia.
Descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce reunited at Bruce’s Beach for a family reunion a few years ago, and have thought of ways to honor this history. “
The movement right now is asking for the land back. They’re asking for restitution on 95 years of wealth and business loss. They are asking for schools in Manhattan Beach to teach this history. They are also considering starting a history center in Manhattan Beach or starting a scholarship for Bruce family members,” said Xia.
A century ago, Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach was one of the most prominent Black-owned resorts by the sea. https://t.co/hvlEkNVcCX— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) August 2, 2020