Wednesday’s transfer to the family of the deed for a piece of land on the beachfront that was taken from a couple in Black Southern California nearly 100 years ago was a result.
Derrick and Anthony Bruce were great-grandsons and great-great grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce. They accepted Wednesday’s deed for Bruce’s Beach in 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 moving from a middle-class American to a wealthy 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 deed is the official return of the property that the Bruces purchased in 1912 for $1225. It was then turned into a bustling beach resort for Black residents, who had little choice but to enjoy the SoCal coast. Manhattan Beach declared the property illegally and threatened to develop a park.
Instead, the property remained vacant for many years after the Bruces and other Black families had been removed 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.”
Three weeks ago, the county’s board was able to vote to return the land. This decision had been years in the making. In accordance with an agreement the Board of Supervisors approved in June, Marcus and Derrick Bruce will receive the land. The Bruces will lease it back to the county at $413,000 per year in order to continue operation of the county’s lifeguard facilities.
The agreement also includes clauses allowing Bruces to later sell their property to county for not more than $20 million.
To return the property, a change in the law of the state was required to allow the county to transfer the ownership. It required several actions at county level to identify Bruce family inheritors and settle financial implications of the property transfer.
“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 Bruces built a resort with a cafe, bath house, and dance hall. This became a target for hate and racism, which led to vandalism and attacks on Black visitors’ vehicles, as well as a 1920 attack from the Ku Klux Klan.
The Bruces refused to be discouraged and operated their small enclave. However, under increasing pressure, the city began to condemn their property in 1924 and the surrounding parcels in 1924. It then took possession of the property through eminent domain with the pretense that it would be used for building a park. The resort was closed down and the Bruces, along with other Black families, lost their land in 1929.
Families sued, claiming that they were victims of a racist removal campaign. As well as other families displaced, the Bruces received some damages. However, the Bruces could not reopen their resort in another part of town.
A park was only built on the portion of the land seized in 1960. Officials feared that the evicted families would file new legal action if they didn’t use the property for its intended purpose.
The Bruces were given the exact parcel of land they owned. In 1995, the county received it.
The park, which is located on the portion of land the city seized, has had many names through the years. The city renamed the park in 2006, but it wasn’t until then. “Bruce’s Beach”In honor of the family being evicted, this move was criticized by critics for being hollow.
It now houses a headquarters for lifeguard training.