Manhattan Beach land seized from Black family may be returned to descendants nearly a century later

The land the Bruce family bought for less than $2,000 could be worth up to $75 million today.
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A beachfront property in Manhattan Beach that was seized from a Black family 97 years ago may be returned to the family's descendants.

In 1924, the city of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to force Willa and Charles Bruce off their land where they lived and ran a resort for Black families. The Bruces were among the first Black landowners in the city.

The land is now owned by Los Angeles County and houses the county's lifeguard headquarters and training center.

The story of racial injustice shocked L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn and now she's exploring what can be done to right the wrong.

"I'm considering, first of all, giving the property back to the Bruce family," Hahn tells Eyewitness News. "I think that would be the one act that would really be justice for that family. I wanted the county of Los Angeles to be a part of righting this terrible wrong."

The beach on Highland Avenue at 27th Street was a resort for Black families who came to enjoy the beach until it was taken away. Anthony Bruce, one of the family's last living direct descendants of the family, says the seizure robbed him of his family's legacy.

"It was a wrong against the Bruce family," says Anthony Bruce. "I think we would be wealthy Americans still living there in California... Manhattan Beach probably."

Supervisor Hahn says there is also an option of leasing the property from the Bruce family so the county's lifeguard building can remain at the location. Or the Bruce family could be paid reparations for what they lost.

Manhattan Beach resident Kavon Ward has been petitioning and raising awareness about the history of Bruce's Beach.

"They need to pay for the stripping of generational wealth," says Kavon Ward. "This family could have been wealthy, they could have passed on wealth to other family members. Manhattan Beach could have been more culturally diverse... there would have been more black people here."

Then there's the matter of the beach itself. A Manhattan Beach city task force is sending the full City Council new recommendations, including a resolution of apology and creating a new commemorative plaque with wording that would prominently acknowledge the pioneering Bruce family instead of the original white land owner.

Ward says the issue is far deeper than a plaque.

"This task force and members of Manhattan Beach are living in this sort of bubble of white supremacy and white fragility and I feel like it's time to penetrate that bubble," says Ward. "It's time for this bubble to be popped."

Hahn says the time may be right for the county to take action to correct history.

"We are now in this country finally meeting this moment," says Supervisor Hahn. "And there are a lot of talks about reparations, financial restitutions being made to African Americans in this country."
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