LOS ANGELES – The Bruce’s Beach saga continues on Tuesday night as the city of Manhattan Beach decides how to properly honor six black families who nearly 100 years ago were displaced by a prominent racially motivated estate.
Manhattan Beach City Council will discuss the location of two plaques, as recommended by a city-created history advisory board, which would be located at both Bruce’s Beach Park and the Strand, near where was the Bruce Family Resort in the 1910s and 20s.
According to examples included in the council’s agenda for the July 20 meeting, the plaques would be monument-style information boards, including the history of the site, biographical information on families, and photos of members of the the community.
Willa and Charles Bruce opened a complex for blacks in Manhattan Beach in 1911, and this led to the booming black community in the early 1920s. But the pushback – both through violent intimidation and through means legal (though morally questionable, according to an official at the time) – led the city to force the Bruces and a handful of other black families out of homes they had built in a prominent lawsuit.
The Bruces and their neighbors had gone out in 1929; three families bought back to live elsewhere in Manhattan Beach, but the Bruces left. The neighborhood was destroyed, and to this day, Manhattan Beach’s black population is estimated to be less than one percent of the city’s population.
At the time, the city announced its intention to redevelop the two seized blocks into a park. No park will be built until, at the earliest, the late 1950s. The park has undergone a handful of name changes in previous years, in the mid-2000s then-mayor Mitch Ward was doing so. part of a handful of advocates for the name change in honor of the Bruce family. Ward is the only black person to have served on Manhattan Beach city council or mayor.
Last year, amid the racial calculation that followed George Floyd’s murder, activists reopened the conversation around Bruce’s Beach, seeking a reward for the family. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the area, worked with her colleagues and state lawmakers on a law that would allow the transfer of former Bruce family lands to their descendants. (Over the decades, control of the lots the Bruce family once owned shifted from Manhattan Beach to the State of California, and then from the State to LA County in the 1990s.)
The bill, SB 796, is making its way through the California assembly and lawmakers expect it to receive swift approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom once it reaches his office. If all goes according to plan, the descendants of the Bruce family could be in control of their ancestral lands by the end of the year.