In the years that followed, Black families still tried to come to Bruce’s Beach, but police began charging them with trespassing. NAACP members were arrested for holding a “swim-in” in 1927.
Despite the alleged park plan, Bruce’s Beach sat empty for decades. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when officials worried families might sue to regain their land, that an actual park was built on part of the Bruces’ parcel.
In 1948, ownership of the park was ceded to the state, which transferred it to Los Angeles County in 1995 to oversee maintenance. It went through several name changes until it was finally christened Bruce’s Beach Park in 2007, thanks to the efforts of then-mayor Mitch Ward, the only Black elected official in Manhattan Beach history.
For years historians, activists, and Bruce family members have advocated for the return of the land, which is probably worth $75 million today, CNN reported. L.A. County board of supervisors member Janice Hahn became aware of the campaign last year, as the death of George Floyd fueled an overdue radical reckoning across the U.S. Hahn began looking into how to rectify a century-old wrong. “Bruce’s Beach became a place where Black families traveled from far and wide to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a day at the beach,” she said in April, when the council announced plans to return the land.
“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them,” Hahn said. “And this was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce but on generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep this property and their successful business.”
The city’s ability to sell or transfer the property was blocked by regulations requiring legislation to change. The California state Senate passed the final vote unanimously on Thursday, the last day of the legislative session, to formally allow L.A. County to return Bruce’s Beach to members of the Bruce family. It’s believed to be the first time that land has been returned to a Black family as reparation for past discrimination. California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the bipartisan bill.
“I’m elated, walking on water right now,” Bruce family spokesperson Duane Shepard said Thursday, according to the Daily Breeze. “This is going to be the start of something really big for our people now.”
Manhattan Beach resident Kavon Ward, who had been petitioning for the property’s return, told NBC News she was “ecstatic” over the vote. “I never would have fathomed that this would have happened so quickly. I was prepared to fight for years if not decades.”
Ward believes the property should come with financial reparations too. “They need to pay for the stripping of generational wealth,” Ward told KABC 7 in March. “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.”
Today Manhattan Beach is a wealthy enclave on the south shore of Santa Monica Bay, with some of the most expensive real estate in the United States. It’s home to about 35,000 residents, less than 1% of whom are Black.
The spot where the Bruce family lodge once stood is now home to a lifeguard training station.
Family members have not said whether they will sell the land to developers, lease it back to the county to maintain the lifeguard station, or keep it for themselves.