Dailymail.com | Charles and Willa Bruce

Bruce Beach is located on the ancestral land of the Gabrielino Tongva people — between 26th and 27th Street along the coastlines of Southern California. In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased two plots of land for $1,225. The African American couple built a beach lodge on the beach’s shoreline. The resort was the first Black-Owned West Coast oceanfront property. Bruce Beach quickly became a popular destination for Black Americans seeking to vacation in peace. The harassment eventually came, as Ku Klux Klan and local real estate agencies plotted racially motivated hate crimes on the Bruces and beach goers. Bruce Beach resort stayed open despite harassment from locals. That was the case until 1924 when the state of California seized the land under eminent domain — on the ground that the area was to be developed as a public park. The property remained undeveloped for decades thereafter. On Tuesday, June 25th, LA county returned now known as Manhattan Beach to direct descendants of Willia and Charles Bruce.

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The beach has featured a memorial plaque to Willa and Charles for years. However, the state legislature had to pass a law to allow the return of the property. BBC News states, “the motion to return the land acknowledged, ‘it is well documented that this move was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful black business and its patrons‘.” This win is the result of a lengthy campaign and difficult processes — including the legal battle, complicated appraisals, an economic analysis to estimate the current value of the lots, and genealogy studies to locate direct heirs of Willa and Charles. 

This week the land was returned to two of Willa and Charles’ great-grandsons. In addition to getting property rights to the land, LA county signed a lease agreement for $413,000 a year to continue operating on the beachfront. The agreement also includes a clause allowing the county future purchase of the land for up to $20M plus transaction costs.