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Owners of Bruce's Beach, which was formerly taken from a Black family, plan to sell the property to L.A. County for $20M

'This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow.'

Owners of Bruce's Beach, which was formerly taken from a Black family, plan to sell the property to L.A. County for $20M
Photo by Lacie Slezak / Unsplash

A beachfront property taken from a Black couple in southern California nearly a century ago and returned to their descendants will be sold to Los Angeles County for almost $20 million, according to CBS.

Janice Hahn, head of the county Board of Supervisors, and state Sen. Steven Bradford, who led local and state government efforts to undo the injustice, announced the heirs' decision to sell what was formerly known as Bruce's Beach, a piece of what is now Manhattan Beach.

"This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the County for nearly $20 million and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century," Hahn said in a written statement.

"This is what reparations look like, and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow."

The heirs' choice to sell the land to the county was backed by Bradford, the author of the state legislation that made it possible for the land to be returned because the current zoning laws would make it impossible for them to develop it in an economically advantageous way.

Charles and Willa Bruce, Black entrepreneurs who built Bruce's Beach, a resort and hideaway for members of the Black community in Los Angeles. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

An injustice corrected

Entrepreneurs Willa and Charles Bruce bought the land in 1912 after migrating to California from across the country. They already owned two plots of oceanfront property in the area.

On the southern shore of Santa Monica Bay, they built and opened Bruce's Beach as a small resort for Black people. Bruce's Beach was one of the first coastal properties in the neighbourhood that was owned by Black people and catered to the Black community, as "60 Minutes" documented in 2021.

"This was an opportunity for a leisure business to provide services to African Americans who wanted to come to the beach," Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian whose research focused on the history of Black Americans in California beach towns, told "60 Minutes".

"They would be less harassed in this area because there was this African American business that could provide them with, you know, something to drink or a place to change their clothes,” she added.

Unfortunately, the Bruces were met with racism and harassment from white neighbours who tried the run the entrepreneurs out of town.

Later in the 1920s, the property was taken through eminent domain after being condemned by the Manhattan Beach City Council. Finally, the property was given to the state of California and later to Los Angeles County after the city did nothing with it.

A lifeguard training headquarters was later built on the land.

Details of the landmark deal

Hahn discovered the property's history and began the difficult process of returning it, which included establishing that the Bruces' two great-grandsons were their legitimate heirs.

The transfer deal, which was finalized last June, stipulated that the property would be leased back to the county for 24 months at a rate of $413,000 per year plus all operating and maintenance expenses, with the option of selling it back to the county for an estimated $20 million.

Towards the end of July, a ceremony was held on the property, which is now the site of the L.A. County Lifeguard Training Center, where Los Angeles County authorities presented the Bruce family with the deed for the Bruce's Beach property.

It was the first time the government had appropriated funds for land stolen from a Black family, according to CBS Los Angeles.

"The seizure of Bruce's Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires," Hahn said in a recent statement.

A commemorative plaque is being updated to provide an accurate account of the property’s history and will be placed at the top of the park.