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Bruce’s Beach: LA County buys land confiscated from Black Family

Bruce’s Beach: LA County buys land confiscated from Black Family

The great-grandchildren of a Black couple whose beachfront property in Southern California was confiscated by local officials in 1924 and returned to the family last year will sell it back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million, an official said Tuesday.

The Manhattan Beach site was once home to Bruce’s Lodge, a resort founded in 1912 by the property’s owners, Willa and Charles Bruce, as a place for black tourists to avoid harassment during a time of rampant discrimination against black people in California and beyond could. It was informally known as “Bruce’s Beach”.

Manhattan Beach officials condemned the property in 1924, paying the Bruces $14,500 and saying they needed it for a public park. They eventually left it undeveloped for more than three decades, and the couple lost a lawsuit to reclaim it. The land was later transferred to Los Angeles County and is now home to a lifeguard training center.

But three years ago, nationwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality led to a resurgence of local interest in the Bruce family’s campaign. And last July, after Los Angeles County and the California legislature worked out the legal details, the county returned to the couple’s next living heirs, their great-grandchildren Derrick and Marcus Bruce.

Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday that the owners had decided to sell the property to the county for nearly $20 million, a value her office said was determined through an appraisal process .

“This is what reparations looks like and it’s a model I hope governments across the country will follow,” Ms Hahn said on Twitter.

The county received notice of the sale from the family on Dec. 30, and the escrow process is expected to be completed in 30 days, Liz Odendahl, a spokeswoman for Ms. Hahn’s office, said in an email Tuesday night. Members of the Bruce family could not be immediately reached for comment.

Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a relative who lives in Los Angeles, said in a phone interview Tuesday night that the family was “very happy” with the sale price. He said they wanted to sell the property because it was for public use only.

“They had no choice but to sell it and take whatever they could get from it and use it to invest in other ways to develop their family fortune that they lost,” Mr. Shepard said , a clan chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.

The property consists of two adjacent beachfront properties. Ms. Bruce bought one of them in 1912 for $1,225 and the second eight years later for $10, Los Angeles County said, noting that the first lot measures about 33 feet by 105 feet. Mr. Shepard said the two batches were identical.

A persistent question has been whether officials in Manhattan Beach, a city of about 34,000 that was founded in 1912 and is 75 percent white, would formally apologize to the Bruce family.

“I think an apology would be the least they can do,” Anthony Bruce, Willa and Charles Bruce’s great-great-grandson, told The New York Times in 2021.

The couple, who moved to Manhattan Beach from New Mexico, were among the first black people to settle in the area. They founded their beach resort in the Jim Crow era, amid a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activity in the United States and campaigns of terror and lynching by white supremacists in the South.

Two years ago, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted 4-1 to accept a “statement of acknowledgment and condemnation” that contained no apology. The city’s then-mayor, Suzanne Hadley, condemned the racism against the Bruces, but said an apology could increase the risk of litigation against the city.

Steve Napolitano, the current mayor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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