LOS ANGELES — The saga of Bruce’s Beach continues Tuesday night, as the City of Manhattan Beach decides how to properly honor six Black families that, nearly 100 years ago, were displaced by racially motivated eminent domain.
Manhattan Beach’s City Council will discuss the placement of two plaques, as recommended by a city-created history advisory board, which would be located both at Bruce’s Beach park and the Strand, near where the original Bruce family resort stood during the 1910s and ‘20s.
According to examples included alongside the council’s agenda for the July 20 meeting, the plaques would be monument-style informational signs, including the history of the site, biographical information on the families and photos of the folks of the community.
Willa and Charles Bruce opened a Black-friendly resort in Manhattan Beach in 1911, and its led to the burgeoning Black community by the early 1920s. But pushback — both through violent intimidation and legal (though morally questionable, according to one official from the time) means — led the city to compel the Bruces and a handful of other Black families out of the homes they built through an eminent domain lawsuit.
The Bruces and their neighbors were out by 1929; three families repurchased to live elsewhere in Manhattan Beach, but the Bruces left. The neighborhood was quashed, and to this day, Manhattan Beach’s Black population is estimated to be less than one percent of the city’s population.
At the time, the city claimed plans to redevelop the two seized blocks into a park. No park would be built until, at the earliest, the late 1950s. The park underwent a handful of name changes over the years before, in the mid 2000s, then-Mayor Mitch Ward was among a handful of advocates for changing the name to honor the Bruce family. Ward is the only Black person to have served as a city council member or mayor for Manhattan Beach.
Last year, amid the racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, activists reopened the conversation around Bruce’s Beach, seeking recompense for the family. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the area, worked with her colleagues and state lawmakers on a law that would allow the transfer of the Bruce family’s former land back to their descendants. (Over the decades, control of the lots that the Bruce family once owned has transferred from Manhattan Beach to the State of California, then from the state to LA County in the 1990s.)
The proposed law, SB 796, is making its way through the California Assembly and is expected by lawmakers to receive quick approval by Gov. Gavin Newsom once it reaches his desk. If all goes as expected, the descendants of the Bruce family may have control of their ancestral land by year’s end.