Two oceanfront properties in Manhattan Beach could be back in the hands of their heirs by the end of next month, 93 years after the original owners, who were black, seized their property through racially motivated eminent domain.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will vote next week to approve an agreement to formally return this land, which was once a beach resort called Bruce’s Beach Lodge, to the descendants of the original owners and then lease it from them.
Supporters say returning the land to the Bruce family will be the first real act of reparation in the country.
Supervisors will almost certainly approve the agreement on Tuesday, June 28. And after a 30-day closing period, Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandchildren of owners Willa and Charles Bruce, will finally inherit the 7,000 square feet of waterfront property. estimated at $20 million.
The county will give the land to the Bruces without any restrictions on its use.
After the Bruces receive the document, according to the agreement, they will lease the property to the county for $413,000 a year for two years.
Both parties will pay closing costs, although the county will reimburse the Bruces $50,000 as per the agreement. This money must then be given to a non-profit legal service provider that helps the Bruces with transactions.
The Bruces will be responsible for paying all property taxes for the current financial year and subsequent years.
Los Angeles County currently operates a ground rescue training station. This use will continue during the lease, with the District paying for all O&M costs in accordance with the agreement.
Tuesday’s vote will be the cornerstone of more than a year of legislative maneuvering to return the land to the Bruces.
This arduous process began in April 2021 with the introduction of Bill 796 in the State Senate, which removed transaction restrictions that prevented the county from transferring property. The county’s supervisors supported the bill, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in September.
The two sites once contained a seaside resort owned and operated by blacks as a holiday haven in the early 20th century when African Americans did not have access to the coast.
But Manhattan Beach used the eminent domain to take over two lots owned by Willa and Charles Bruce and other properties. As historical records show, the cause of the domain’s remarkable effort was the expulsion of blacks from Manhattan Beach.
The city still owns the land to the east of Bruce’s former beach house. This land lay vacant for decades before the city turned it into a park; over time, the recreation area was renamed Bruce Beach Park.
The Bruce lots – bordering 26th and 27th Streets, Manhattan Avenue and the Strand – became public property in 1948. The state transferred the lots to Los Angeles County in 1995.
Co-authored by overseers Janice Khan and Holly Mitchell, it was proposed to complete the return of the Bruce land.
Khan, whose supervisory district included Manhattan Beach before the redistricting, said in a statement this week that the time has come for Bruce’s descendants to restore the wealth their family has been deprived of for generations.
“We will never be able to undo the injustice done to the Bruce family,” Khan said, “but this is only the beginning, and rightly so.”
Mitchell, who now represents Manhattan Beach after a decade-long redistricting process, also said in a statement that the land should never have been taken.
“Now we are on the cusp of redemption and justice that is long overdue,” Mitchell said, crediting the “global coalition of activists who have fought for years to bring justice to the Bruce family.”
The battle to return packages from Bruce’s beach to Bruce’s family began with activist Cavon Ward in June 2020, just days after the police murder of George Floyd.
Ward planned a picnic in Bruce Beach Park to celebrate June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when the last group of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas learned they were free.
At the event, Ward also drew attention to why the 2020 picnic site, originally intended as a black getaway, has now become a hilly, grassy public recreation area.
This event sparked a movement that resulted in state legislation to remove restrictions on the Bruce Beach case.
“I look forward to standing with my colleagues,” Mitchell said, “on the right side of history.”