Nearly a century after a Southern California city shuttered a beach resort owned by a Black couple, the city, county and state are still reckoning over how to right past wrongs.
The resort was established by Willa and Charles Bruce in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 1912. During the Jim Crow era, they built a destination where Black tourists could swim, dance, eat and rest. But in 1924, Manhattan Beach officials invoked eminent domain and condemned the Bruces’ land.
The Bruces fought the move but ultimately lost their business and were paid $14,500 — or $224,603 today, adjusted for inflation — for the property. They moved to Los Angeles.
At the time that the land was seized, the city claimed it needed it for a public park but then left it undeveloped for more than three decades. Today it is owned by Los Angeles County and is home to a training center for lifeguards.
nationwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality — prompted a resurgence of interest in the Bruces.
County and state officials are now taking steps to restore the property to the couple’s descendants.
While officials in Manhattan Beach — a small community south of Los Angeles where Black residents make up less than 1 percent of the population — plan to commemorate the Bruces with plaques and an art installation, the City Council decided this month that it would not issue a formal apology to the family.
“We acknowledge and condemn what our city forefathers and some White residents did to Willa and Charles Bruce, four other Black families and a couple dozen White families 100 years ago,” Suzanne Hadley, the mayor of Manhattan Beach, said in an email. “But I do not agree that our current city must wear a scarlet R embroidered on our chest for the end of time.”
Anthony Bruce, 38, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa, praised state and county officials but said he was not happy with the city. “I think an apology would be the least that they can do,” he said.
announced he was introducing a bill that would allow the transfer to happen.
“This is an example of what reparations could look like, in California and across the nation,” he said.
Manhattan Beach has been grappling with the history of the Bruces’ resort for years. Bob Brigham, a longtime high school teacher in Manhattan Beach who died in 2019, compiled research about the resort for a thesis in 1956. A park near the lifeguard training center was renamed Bruce’s Beach in 2007.
In October, city officials convened a task force to consider recommendations to right historical wrongs. The undertaking prompted emotional discussions and personality clashes over history, reparations and racism in the past and in the present.
Some residents felt a subtle shift in the community.
“I feel like the energy has changed,” said Allison Hales, 40, a Manhattan Beach resident who was a member of the task force. “There’s such a divide now.”
By the time the task force’s recommended apology appeared on the City Council’s agenda last month, it had become a lightening rod. Some residents argued that an apology would cast unfair blame on current city residents. Others were aghast that Manhattan Beach would refuse to apologize for having pushed out African-Americans.