Essential California: The plan to give back Bruce’s Beach

A man takes a picture of a plaque. In the background is the ocean at sunset.
A visitor takes a picture of a plaque memorializing the park adjacent to Bruce’s Beach on Sept. 30, 2021.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 24. I’m Kiera Feldman.

Today, Manhattan Beach is both very rich and very white. But a century ago, Black beachgoers enjoyed a thriving community by the sea, centered on a resort run by the Bruce family on land they purchased in 1912. The area came to be known as Bruce’s Beach.

When harassment by white neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan failed to drive the Black community out of town, city officials condemned the neighborhood in 1924 and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domain. The ostensible reason? Building a public park. The city razed Bruce’s Beach, and the land remained vacant for decades.

In a plan made public for the first time, Los Angeles County officials have detailed how they would complete the unprecedented transfer of Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, the Black couple who were run out of Manhattan Beach, my colleague Rosanna Xia reports.


The beachfront property, estimated to be worth $20 million, would be transferred to the Bruce family, according to the proposed plan released late Wednesday. The county would then rent the property from the Bruces for $413,000 a year and maintain a county lifeguard facility at the site. Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized the transfer and codified into law that the property had been wrongfully taken.

“This land should have never been taken from the Bruce family over 90 years ago. Now, we are on the precipice of redemption and justice that is long overdue,” said Holly Mitchell, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. “Although we cannot change the past, we have a responsibility to learn from it and to do what is right today.”

State and city leaders across the nation have looked to Bruce’s Beach to see how the historic transfer would be made. Many say Bruce’s Beach could provide a model for those seeking to reckon with past injustices that violently dispossessed Indigenous people and blocked Black people, Latinos, Japanese Americans and many others from owning property and building wealth in this country, Xia reports.

The proposed agreement will be brought before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for a vote next Tuesday.

Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, told Xia in 2020 that the history of Bruce’s Beach was painful for his family. His grandfather Bernard, born a few years after the condemnation, was obsessed with what happened and lived his life “extremely angry at the world.”

“How would you feel if your family owned the Waldorf and they took it away from you?” Bernard said in a 2007 interview with The Times. Growing up in South L.A., he said, when he told school friends that his family once owned a beach, they would laugh at him.


The transfer of the beachfront property “will allow my family to do what countless other American families have done since our country’s founding: inherit property and build family wealth over generations,” Anthony Bruce wrote in an op-ed last year. “I’ll never know whether my family’s business would have grown to rival that of Hilton or Marriott, both of which were founded around the same time as Bruce’s Beach and grew from equally humble beginnings.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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One of L.A.’s biggest landlords has agreed to pay $12.5 million to renters over claims he wouldn’t return security deposits. Prominent L.A. landlord Geoffrey Palmer will settle a class-action lawsuit that accused his company of refusing to return security deposits to more than 19,000 renters when they moved out of his apartments. Palmer is also a major donor to former President Trump and Republican causes. Los Angeles Times

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Disney was part of a small, secretive group that pulled strings at Anaheim City Hall. The “cabal” steered policy, received contracts from the city and scripted remarks by Anaheim’s mayor, a Times investigation found. Los Angeles Times

California leaders vow new gun restrictions after Supreme Court ruling threatens state law. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on Thursday pledged to work with the governor and lawmakers to pass new gun control legislation in response to a Supreme Court ruling that weakens requirements to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon in the state. Los Angeles Times



In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, an unreliable 400-year-old test is sending mothers to prison for killing their newborns. Prosecutors use a flotation test to differentiate between a stillbirth and a fetal homicide — a bogus standard that has sent women to jail for decades. Los Angeles Times

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First suspected cases of monkeypox in Riverside and Santa Clara counties reported this week. Officials reported two cases found in individuals who had traveled internationally. California now reports 39 suspected or confirmed monkeypox cases, but the CDC said the threat of monkeypox to the general population in the U.S. is low because it does not spread easily between people without close contact. Los Angeles Times

For the first time in decades, water is flowing through the Colorado River Delta in Baja California, Mexico. As part of an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments, water has been released from an irrigation canal into the dry riverbed, showing how even a small amount of water can benefit struggling ecosystems. Los Angeles Times


Chef Martin Draluck shares Fourth of July recipes that honor some of America’s earliest Black chefs. Grilled rabbit, baked beans, Parmesan mac ’n’ cheese — Draluck, who is the chef de cuisine at Post & Beam, prepares a holiday feast in the Los Angeles Times kitchen. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: 86. San Diego: 78. San Francisco: 61. San Jose: 87. Fresno: 105. Sacramento: 97.


Today’s California memory comes from Debra A. Varnado:

I moved to Santa Barbara 37 years ago and rented an apartment in a motel-like complex with a swimming pool. After two months, I began housesitting for a colleague whose family temporarily relocated to D.C. I lived in their furnished, three-bedroom, two-bath home with garage and backyard jacuzzi in then-unincorporated Goleta. That February, a California rose in winter — an unforgettable beauty — bloomed outside my bedroom window. I fell hard, she stole my heart. To this day, I tell stories of how that rose inspired poems, and supplanted memories of upstate New York’s icy roads, parkas and having to “dig the car out.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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