90 years after famed Los Angeles resort, family reclaims property

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90 years after famed Los Angeles resort, family reclaims property

Ninety-eight years after California officials seized prime oceanfront land from a Black family that had built a thriving community there, a Los Angeles County commission voted Tuesday to return the property to the original owners family.

The descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce, who purchased the land for $1,225 in 1912 and built it into a seaside resort for Black families, will retake ownership of Bruce's Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach. The land had been taken from them in 1924 under the guise of the eminent domain.

This was a wonderful beginning for us as a family. It turned into a tragic story for my family, Anthony Bruce, the great-grandson of the Bruces, told NBC News. In the day, prejudice was rampant. My family was the victim of a hate crime and prejudice that was around during those times.

Now that this is finally taking place, for us as a family we are greatly relieved, and we are grateful that this has made such an impact on our nation. The resort has a lodge, caf dance hall and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent on land that is now home to the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Center. Despite acts of vandalism of visitors vehicles and an attack by the Ku Klux Klan, the family remained steadfast. When it was clear that the Bruces would not give in, the city seized the property and condemned the surrounding areas, claiming it would build a park in the area.

It was left undeveloped for more than 30 years.

The agreement returns the land to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, Anthony Bruce's parents and the great-grandsons of Willa and Charles. They said they plan to lease the land back to L.A. County at $413,000 a year so that the county lifeguards at the site can continue to operate. The family can sell the property back to the county for no more than $20 million, according to Anthony Bruce, who said it's likely that the agreement will take place.

Bruce said that he was not sure if anything else needs to happen over there at Manhattan Beach, where it is extremely racially lopsided. There are affluent, Caucasian people. It's highly unlikely that for us to go over there and try to mingle and get involved because of the things that have happened to my family and other Black families that have been there. I don't feel like it is a safe place for my family. The battle to reclaim the land began in April 2021 when Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn initiated the process of setting up the transfer of property. Local advocacy groups, including Kavon Ward's Where Is My Land and Justice for Bruce s Beach, joined in and helped raise awareness of the seizure. California State Sen. Steven Bradford authored Bill 796, which gave Los Angeles County the legal authority to transfer the property to the descendants. In September, Gavin Newsom signed legislation that moved the transfer of ownership closer to Tuesday's final decision.

A change in state law was required to allow the county to transfer ownership. County officials had to identify the Bruce family heirs and deal with the financial implications of transferring the property.

Anthony Bruce said to see how many people came together and rally to get this done and to bring this to the forefront of people's minds. We are just really excited that this is happening, and we're just overjoyed and overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. Bradford chastised Manhattan Beach for failing to publicly apologize for the actions of the City Council in the 1920s.

Let's be clear, Bradford said. The county is not giving anything back to the Bruce family.