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Newsom Signs Bill Paving Way To Return Bruce's Beach Seized From Black Family

MANHATTAN BEACH (CBSLA) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday signed a bill that will pave the way to return a stretch of beachfront property in Manhattan Beach that was wrongly seized from a Black family more than 90 years ago.

Bruce Beach announcement- during the Coronavirus pandemic.
MANHATTAN BEACH, CA - APRIL 9 - - A pedestrian walks past a marker that gives the history of Bruces Beach in Manhattan Beach on April 9, 2021. Los Angeles Supervisor Janice Hahn announced that the process of returning Bruces Beach back to the family of Willa and Charles Bruce has begun. Sen. Steven Bradford has created SB 796 that will allow Bruces Beach to be returned to surviving members of the Bruce family. In 1912, a young Black couple named Willa and Charles Bruce purchased beachfront property in Manhattan Beach and built a beautiful beach resort that served Black residents. It was one of the few beaches where Black residents could go because so many other local beaches did not permit Black beachgoers. The Bruce's and their customers were harassed and threatened by white neighbors including the KKK. Eventually, the Manhattan Beach City Council moved to seize the property using eminent domain, purportedly to create a park. The Council took the property in 1929 and it remained empty for many years. The property the Bruce's once owned was years later transferred to the State and in 1995 transferred to Los Angeles County. It is now the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters. APRIL 09: Manhattan Beach Friday, April 9, 2021 Manhattan Beach, CA. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Senate Bill 796, approved by the California Legislature earlier this month, clears the way for Los Angeles County to return Bruce's Beach to the Bruce family.

In 1912, the beachfront property at the Strand and 26th Street was purchased by Willa and Charles Bruce for $1,225 and used to build a beach resort to serve Black residents.

However, the resort quickly became a target of the area's white populace, leading to acts of vandalism, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1929, the Manhattan Beach City Council seized the property citing eminent domain.

The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign. The Bruces were eventually awarded some damages, as were other displaced families. But the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.

The property was transferred to the state and then to L.A. County. It is now used as a park and as the L.A. County Lifeguard Training Centre.

The park that sits on a portion of the seized land has borne a variety of names over the years. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park "Bruce's Beach" in honor of the evicted family. That honor, however, has been derided by critics as a hollow gesture toward the family.

While the state legislation is required to make the transfer to the family, more action on a local level will still be required. In July, L.A. County released a detailed plan which lays out the process for returning the land to the Bruce family. In part, it calls for the county Treasurer and Tax Collector Department to work with the county Public Administrator's Office to determine the Bruces' legal heirs.

The county will also have to negotiate an agreement for the land transfer, one that eases the property tax burden on the descendants when they take possession. The county will also have to find land to relocate a lifeguard facility at the site.

The Bruce family would also have the option to lease the land back to L.A. County, who would then pay rent.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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