Black family sold Bruce's Beach back to LA county for $20 Million

‘This is what reparations look like’: LA County buys BACK $20M prime beachfront property a year after giving to heirs of black couple who had it seized by city in 1924 – as Board of Supervisors chair says rest of US should follow suit

  • The land, originally purchased around 1912 by Charles and Willa Bruce, was recently  returned to descendants of the couple in 2022
  • The land was seized by the majority white city in 1924 following a racist pressure campaign
  • On Tuesday, the chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced the family had opted to sell the property back to Los Angeles County
  • Some have said they wish the family had hung on to the valuable land a while longer while others have said they think the county offered a low ball figure 

Los Angeles County, for $20million, will buy back a prime beachfront piece of property from the descendants of the black couple from whom the land was forcibly taken a century ago and returned just last year.

In a July ceremony, descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce were handed the deed to Bruce’s Beach, about 20 miles south of LA.

His great-great-grandparents Willa and Charles Bruce bought the Manhattan Beach plot in 1912, only to have it improperly seized by the city in 1924 after a racist pressure campaign.

Direct descendants of Willa and Charles have now made the decision to sell the land back to the county for nearly $20million. 

Willa and Charles Bruce brought the property in 1912 during the early 20th century after moving from New Mexico with their son Harvey

A Bruce’s Beach plaque stands on the property that used to be owned by Charles and Willa Bruce before it was seized by the government

The chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Janice Hahn, said in a Tuesday statement, ‘This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the county for nearly $20 million and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century.’

A spokesperson for Hahn said that the Bruce family is not planning on releasing a statement regarding the sale.  

Bruce Beach is made up of two lots of land with valuable beachfront views in Manhattan Beach, an upscale Los Angeles community that to this day remains less than 1 percent black.

It was first purchased by the Bruces between 1912 and 1920 and was the site where they subsequently built a beach resort for members of the black community, who were barred from using most white beach clubs at the time.

The resort was a success but was one of several owned by black landowners that were seized by Manhattan Beach authorities in the 1920s after white residents complained of their presence.

Derrick (left) and Anthony (right) Bruce discuss their ancestors’ belief in the importance of reclaiming Bruce’s Beacch

In July of 2022, the Bruce family gathered to celebrate the passing of the land’s deed back to the descendants of its rightful owners

Artist Shelley Bruce paints a painting of the Bruce family during a ceremony transferring the ownership of Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce

Anthony Bruce, the great great grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce is all smiles as Governor Gavin Newsom signs SB 796, a bill allowing the return Manhattan Beach land to descendants of its original owners

Following the racial unrest that followed George Floyd’s death in 2020 and the subsequent reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Manhattan Beach City Council assembled a task force that ultimately recommended the county return the land to the Bruce family.

In 2022, the land was leased back to descendants of the Bruce family, with an option to sell the land back to the county for its market value.

Prior to its resale, the land was owned by brothers Marcus and Derrick Bruce as well as Derrick’s sons, Anthony and Michael.

At the time the deal was struck, Anthony – who currently resides in Florida with his wife Sandra Bruce – said that the initial seizure of the land ‘destroyed’ his great-great-grandparents financially.

‘It destroyed their chance at the American Dream. I wish they could see what has happened today,’ he said.

The July ceremony marked the first time a government entity had even returned wrongfully seized land from a family of African Americans.

During a speech he gave that day, Anthony said, ‘It’s surreal, and it’s almost like being transported to the other side of the known universe.’ 

‘I want to remain level-headed about the entire thing. I want to make sure I don’t lose focus as to what Charles and Willa’s dream was. The dream was to just have an America where they could thrive and have their American business thrive.’ 

Without God, we would not be here today. And finally, thank you all. God bless,’ he concluded.

Aerial view of Bruce’s Beach at golden hour. Some have questioned if the $20million sale price is a lowball offer from Los Angeles County

Anthony Bruce (right) with LA County chair of the  Board of Supervisors Janice Hahn (left) who announced on Tuesday the family’s plans to sell the property back to the county

In her Tuesday statement, Hahn said she hopes the return of the land will serve as a precedent for other parts of the government to do the same.

‘This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope government across the country will follow,’ she said.

One significant note regarding the family’s sale of the land is that a recently passed California Senate bill would exempt the family from most taxes pertaining to the sale of the land.

In July, Anthony Bruce said the seizure of the property ‘destroyed their (Willa and Charles Bruce’s) chance at the American Dream. I wish they could see what has happened today.’

Some weighed in on the news breaking of the family opting to sell the land back to the county to say they are disappointed in the decision.

R&B singer Irv Sullivan tweeted that he was disappointed the Bruces were ‘selling Bruce’s Beach back to LA so soon.’

A Twitter account called Beagrrrl wrote, ‘Bruce family to sell its Bruce’s Beach property back to LA County for $20 million. Seems low, but what do I know?’

The median price for a house in Manhattan Beach in the fall of 2022 was $2.6million, according to Redfin data. 

Key dates in battle for Bruce’s Beach 

1912 – Willa and Charles Bruce, who moved to California from New Mexico, buy a beachfront plot of land in Manhattan Beach. She had purchased for $1,225 the first of two lots along the Strand between 26th and 27th streets. They open up a resort.

1924 – Manhattan Beach city council orders the Bruces sell, via eminent domain. They say they need to build a park. The Bruces challenge it in court, but lose. The city paid them $14,500 – a fraction of the land’s $70,000 value at the time – and they left their beach and lost their business.

1931 – Charles Bruce died at the age of 69. 

1934 – Willa Bruce died at the age of 71.

1950s – The area had sat empty for decades, but the city council began to realize that questions might be asked unless the park, for which the land was supposedly taken, was not built. They create City Park, later renamed Beachfront, then Bayview Terrace Park. In 1974, it was named after a sister city in Mexico, Parque Culiacan.

2006 – Amid a growing interest in the history of the area, the city council voted 3-2 to rename the beach after the Bruce family — largely because of an appeal by Councilman Mitch Ward, the city’s first black elected official.

2017 – Kavon Ward moves to the area and hears the story of Bruce’s Beach. She begins campaigning to hand it back to the original owners. 

2018 – A Bruce family reunion is held at the beach, with around 150 people attending.

2021 – California’s governor Gavin Newsom signs into law SB 796, a bill to return the Manhattan Beach land to descendants of its original owners.

June 28, 2022 – Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously in favor of formally returning the land to the Bruce family

January 3, 2023 – It is announced that heirs of the Bruces will sell the land back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20million

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