More than a place for public play, the Black-owned Bruce's Beach in the South Bay of Los Angeles County is a landmark of historical significance. Located in the laid-back coastal community of Manhattan Beach, the oldest park site in town was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce. During a time of segregation, the couple developed their land into a lively oceanfront resort that welcomed Black families from all over Los Angeles. But after the city condemned the three-acre property by eminent domain under the guise of building a public park, the lodge, café, and dance hall were demolished in 1927. The racially motivated seizure left the land abandoned for nearly three decades.
It wasn’t until 1956 that a park was finally built on the hillside overlooking the ocean, after the land was transferred to Los Angeles County. And it was another 50 years before attention was drawn to the historic wrongdoing. In 2007, community efforts championed by the mayor and Manhattan Beach’s first Black city council member brought about a new name for the park: Bruce’s Beach.
Following years of advocacy and activism, including a new land transfer bill signed into state law in 2021, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in July 2022 to return Bruce’s Beach to Willa and Charles’ descendants. It marked the first time in the nation’s history that the government returned property to a Black family.
As the new, rightful landowners, the Bruce family is leasing the park site back to the county, with a potential purchase price of up to $20 million. The agreement includes continued operations of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Center, which was once the site of the famed Bruce’s Lodge. (UPDATE: In January of 2023, the Bruces agreed to sell the land back to the county.)
Today, visitors can continue to visit Bruce’s Beach at Highland and 27th Street. Nestled between Manhattan Beach’s closely spaced multiple-million-dollar homes, the park provides a welcome respite—a three-block stretch of greenery to catch your breath and picnic under the shade of a tree.
If you’re not shooting hoops on the half-court or enjoying sunset views over the Pacific Ocean, stop and read the plaque affixed to the commemorative monument at the top of the hill. Soon, the outdated, whitewashed retelling of the park’s history will be replaced with a historically accurate story of the Bruce family legacy—a reminder for future generations that it’s never too late to reject hate and move forward to correct an injustice.