California Governor Gavin Newsom was due to sign a law Thursday to allow the transfer of ownership of a prominent beachfront property to the heirs of a couple who built a black resort in the early 1900s but was stripped of land by local authorities.
Legislation unanimously approved by state lawmakers this month was needed to allow the complex legal process to begin transferring ownership of what was once known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach. and currently owned by Los Angeles County.
County supervisor Janice Hahn, who lobbied for the land transfer, said the heirs would almost certainly be millionaires now if the property had not been taken.
The property along the southern shore of Santa Monica Bay includes two plots purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first resort on the west coast for blacks at a time when segregation prevented them from access to many beaches. It included a pavilion, a café, a dance hall and dressing tents.
White neighbors harassed the Bruces and there was an attempt to burn down the complex. Finally, Manhattan Beach City Council used a prominent estate to take the Bruce land in the 1920s, allegedly for use as a park.
However, the land went unused for years and was transferred to the State of California in 1948. In 1995 it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. This transfer was accompanied by restrictions which limited the possibility of selling or transferring the property which could only be lifted by a new state law.
The property is currently the site of the county’s lifeguard training headquarters along a scenic beach promenade called The Strand, lined with luxury homes overlooking the beach and ocean.
Manhattan Beach is now an upscale seaside suburb of Los Angeles. According to the city’s website, its population of 35,000 is over 84% white and 0.8% black.
Earlier this year, city council formally condemned the efforts of their early 20th-century predecessors to displace the Bruces and several other black families.
The county, meanwhile, outlined the steps needed to move forward with the transfer, including assessing the value of the plots and trying to find a way to reduce the tax burden on heirs.
The county must also examine the Bruce’s legal heirs and possibly find a new site for the lifeguard training headquarters. One option would be for the heirs to lease the land to the county for continued use.
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