Manhattan Beach

LA County Surrenders Deed for Bruce's Beach Land to Descendants of Black Couple

A great-grandson and great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce accepted the deed for land that was taken from the couple nearly a century ago in Manhattan Beach.

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The deed for a pristine piece of beachfront land taken from a Black Southern California couple nearly a century ago was transferred Wednesday to the family's descendants.

Derrick and Anthony Bruce, a great-grandson and great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, accepted the deed for the property known as Bruce's Beach Wednesday morning in the seaside community of Manhattan Beach. Anthony Bruce held the formal document over his head after it was presented by the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk with ocean waves crashing in the background on a sun-splashed morning.

"It's surreal, and it's almost like being transported to the other side of the known universe," Anthony Bruce said. "It's like going from middle class American to a wealthy class American.

"I want to remain level-headed about the entire thing. I want to make sure I don't lose focus as to what Charles and Willa's dream was. The dream was to just have an America where they could thrive and have their American business thrive."

The return of the deed marks the formal return of the property, which the Bruces bought in 1912 for $1,225 and turned into a thriving beach resort for Black residents who had few options to enjoy the SoCal coast. The city of Manhattan Beach condemned the property under a false pretense of developing a park.

Instead, the property sat vacant for years after the Bruces and other Black families were evicted from the area.

"We are a family that was dispossessed," Derrick Bruce told NBC News. "Anyone who knows how hard it is to become dispossessed, that in itself is a grave puncture, a grave wounding. That's what our family have gone through. A grave wounding."

The county's board of supervisors voted to return the land three weeks ago, a decision that was years in the making. Under an agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors in late June, the land is being transferred to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce. The Bruces will lease the land back to the county for $413,000 a year for the continued operation of county lifeguard facilities at the site.

The agreement also includes clauses that would allow the Bruces to later sell the property to the county for a price not to exceed $20 million.

The hardship that our family went through, went through generations. It just echoed and reverberated without us knowing why.

Derrick Bruce, great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce

Returning the property required a change in state law to authorize the county to transfer ownership of the land. It also required various actions at the county level to identify Bruce family heirs and settle the various financial implications of transferring the property.

"In a way, it does feel like justice," Derrick Bruce said. "The hardship that our family went through, went through generations. It just echoed and reverberated without us knowing why."

The resort built by the Bruces, which had a bath house, dance hall and cafe, became a target of hate and racism that led to vandalism, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

The Bruces were undeterred and continued operating their small enclave, but under increasing pressure, the city moved to condemn their property and surrounding parcels in 1924, seizing it through eminent domain under the pretense of building a park. The resort was forced out of business, and the Bruces and other Black families ultimately lost their land in 1929.

The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign. The Bruces were eventually awarded some damages, as were other displaced families. But the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.

It was not until 1960 that a park was built on a portion of the seized land with city officials fearing the evicted families could take new legal action if the property wasn't used for the purpose for which it was seized.

The exact parcel of land the Bruces owned was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995.

The city park that now sits on a portion of the land seized by the city has borne a variety of names over the years. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park "Bruce's Beach" in honor of the evicted family, a move derided by critics as a hollow gesture.

It is now the site of a lifeguard training headquarters.

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