Almost 100 years after the government took their land, it has been returned.
This week, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors unanimously approved that a beachfront property known as Bruce’s Beach be transferred back to the descendants of its former owners, Willa and Charles Bruce.
The Bruces bought their little corner of Los Angeles in 1912 and, in an era when segregated beaches were common, constructed the West Coast’s first resort for black people, the Guardian reported. In 1924, after the relentless harassment of racist neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan failing to push out the community the Bruces built, the Manhattan Beach City Council condemned their portion of the neighborhood and seized over two dozen properties through eminent domain.
The area, the council claimed at the time, was urgently needed for a park, the LA Times reported. It subsequently sat empty for decades before being transferred to the state and then LA County before eventually becoming a parking lot and lifeguard training headquarters. The seizure ruined the Bruces, who spent the rest of their lives working as diner cooks.
On Tuesday, the long-dead Bruces’ two parcels of land — which are today prime waterfront real estate — were given to the couple’s great-grandsons, Marcus and Derrick Bruce.
“My great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce, sacrificed to open a business that gave black people a place to gather and socialize, and Manhattan Beach took it from them because of the color of their skin,” the family’s spokesman, Anthony Bruce, said in a statement, the Guardian reported. “It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance at the American dream.”
As part of the agreement, the property must be leased back to the county for two years and maintains an annual rent of $413,000 plus operation and maintenance costs. The county also maintains a right to buy back the land for no more than $20 million.
“We can’t change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start,” said Janice Hahn, of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. “This may be the first land return of its kind, but it cannot be the last.”