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Charles and Willa
*Bruce's Beach is celebrated on this date in 1924. This was a beach resort in Manhattan Beach (in Los Angeles County, California) owned by and operated by African Americans.
Willa and Charles Bruce bought a property in the strand area for $1,225 that was set aside from Henry Willard in 1912 and added on three lots. They established a resort and named it after Mrs. Bruce. The development included a bathhouse and dining house for Blacks, whose access to public beaches was highly restricted because of Jim Crow Segregation.
Aside from the Blacks-only beach resort, Manhattan Beach was "an otherwise white community," and Blacks had limited access to seashores; Mrs. Bruce's initiative "defiantly transgressed these racial boundaries." It was not the only beach attraction available to Blacks; there was also Peck's Pier and pavilion on 34th Street, a section of Santa Monica State Beach referred to as the "Ink Well", and the Pacific Beach Club in Orange County.
Bruce’s Beach is located at 26th Street and Highland Avenue; the city acquired the property via eminent domain proceedings in the 1920s and closed. As Los Angeles's population increased and property values soared in the 1920s, Black people in the area suffered from increased racial tension before eminent domain proceedings started by the city forced the club to close. Under the pretense of building a city park, the city of Manhattan Beach took control of the land from the Bruce family, and the buildings were razed in 1927.
In the 1950s, city officials began to worry that family members might sue to regain their land unless it was originally used for the purpose for which it had been taken. In the 1960s, the property, which had been vacant for decades, was made into a city park, first called Bayview Terrace Park, then Parque Culiacan. The Park is on a slope overlooking the ocean and includes rolling grassy terraces with benches and small trees. It is located a few blocks from the beach, between 26th and 27th Street, and runs west from Highland Avenue to Manhattan Avenue.
In 2006, the Manhattan Beach City Council renamed the park, "commemorating our community's understanding that friendship, goodwill, and respect for all begins within our boundaries and extends to the world community. All are welcome." The city acknowledged its history of racial discrimination, and in March 2007, the beach was ceremoniously renamed Bruce's Beach. during an event exhibiting "a deep tide of goodwill." A Juneteenth 2020 commemoration picnic was held at Bruce's Beach Park. Kavon Ward, a Manhattan Beach resident, staged the event to draw attention to the seizure of the land by the city of Manhattan Beach. At the event, Ward told a reporter that her goal was to use policy to deed the land back to the Bruce family. In the weeks following, Ward founded the advocacy coalition Justice for Bruce's Beach.
In August 2020, Justice for Bruce's Beach held a rally and march to apply public pressure further to return the land to the Bruce Family. The group's work pressured the city council in October 2020 to create the Bruce's Beach Task Force, which consisted of 13 members. The task force soon faced opposition from the anonymous group "Concerned Residents of MB." The anonymous group paid a two-page advertisement in The Beach Reporter, claiming that the task force used racism to "grab power." On the same day that Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd, LA County Supervisors voted unanimously to approve returning Bruce's Beach to the family's descendants. The property to be returned was estimated to be worth $75 million. "If the plan is approved, the county will have 60 days to create a timeline for the land transfer and determine whether or not the lifeguard station [located on the property] will have to move" (CBSLA Staff).
On June 2, 2021, the California State Senate approved a bill to return the property to descendants of the Bruce family. Due to a series of land transfers, a restriction required Los Angeles County to use Bruce's Beach for public recreation and prevented the county from transferring or selling the property. Legislative approval by the state to eliminate that restriction was passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30, 2021.
County officials said on January 4, 2023, Bruce’s Beach will be sold back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million.