- CA Gov. Newsom signed a bill which transfers historic “Bruce’s Beach” land back to a Black family.
- The Bruce family owned a successful resort for Black visitors until city officials seized the land.
- Senate Bill 796 acknowledged the racist history and returned the land to living descendants.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Thursday that returned an area of beachfront property known as “Bruce’s Beach,” to descendants of a Black family who owned the property and were run out by white residents and city officials almost a century ago.
Newsom signed Senate Bill 796 at the location in the City of Manhattan Beach, alongside family members of Willa and Charles Bruce, who originally owned a popular beachside hotel frequented by Black beachgoers, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The bill coasted through the state legislature in June and included a provision that will allow Los Angeles County to begin an immediate land transfer back to the family. Officials are still valuing the land, which is estimated to be between $35 million and $75 million dollars.
“The land in the City of Manhattan Beach, which was wrongfully taken from Willa and Charles Bruce, should be returned to their living descendants,” the bill says, “and it is in the public interest of the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Manhattan Beach, and the People of the State of California to do so.”
According to the LA Times, in 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased two lots of beachside land for $1,225, where Willa ran a resort while Charles worked as a train dining car chef. The resort included a cafe and dance hall and was a mainstay for Black beachgoers and a growing Black community.
White residents, however, threatened Willa and her guests from the outset, according to the LA Times, and the Ku Klux Klan also reportedly destroyed property as well as houses of nearby Black families to intimidate the community.
Many white residents in Manhattan Beach pushed back against the move this year as well.
By 1924, city officials stepped in and seized the land, claiming it needed to be used for a public park. The properties sat empty for two decades and in 1948, the land was transferred back to the state.
“As Governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologize to the Bruce family,” Newsom said at the ceremony, handing a pen to Anthony Bruce, a descendant of the Bruces. “What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else. There’s an old adage: Once a mind is stretched it never goes back to it’s original form,” he added.
—Holly J. Mitchell (@HollyJMitchell) September 30, 2021
“We do thank God, because this is something that we’ve been praying for, for decades,” Anthony Bruce said. “Hopefully this is the start of a new beginning for us.”
State Sen. Steven Bradford, an author of the bill, said that the signing could create momentum for other reparation and restitution efforts.
“I’m honored for this governor to have the courage to do the right thing,” Bradford said at the ceremony. “If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt. The city of Manhattan Beach owes a debt to the Bruce family. The state of California owes a debt to the Bruce family, and the county of Los Angeles owes a debt to the Bruce family — and our governor today is here to fix his signature to this bill to pay that debt to the Bruce family.”
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