Almost 100 years after officials in Manhattan Beach, California, stripped Willa and Charles Bruce of the oceanfront property they’d developed into a popular resort for Black Americans, state lawmakers have unanimously approved legislation that will return the multimillion-dollar plot to the Bruce family. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the law Thursday.
Bruce’s Lodge, the Bruce’s resort, got its start in 1912 when the couple purchased two parcels of land on the Santa Monica Bay to start a soda stand, historian and author Alison Rose Jefferson told ABC7. The small business flourished, catering to Black families whose access to public beaches was highly restricted. The modest soda stand would later become the first beach resort that catered to Black travelers on the West Coast.
The Bruces and their guests faced years of harassment from their white neighbors. In one instance, the Klu Klux Klan burned a mattress on the resort grounds. In another, no-trespassing signs were erected on the beach adjoining Bruce’s Lodge. Then, a little over a decade after the Bruces first went into business in Manhattan Beach, the city reclaimed the land, citing eminent domain and an interest in using the property for a park. The land, however, lay empty for decades — until the 1950s when a park was eventually built.
White community members did not welcome the Black presence in Manhattan Beach, in some cases orchestrating targeted racist attacks in opposition. They used the term “negro invasion,” Rose Jefferson told ABC7. “[Black Americans] were moving into areas that they hadn’t been before, and they were more affluent, and they were less subservient, and they were demanding their civil rights and civil liberties,” she explains.
In a move to rectify the theft of the Bruce’s property a century ago, local officials have officially begun the process of transferring ownership, beginning with an appraisal of the land’s value.
In his apology to the Bruce family during a bill-signing ceremony at the grounds, which was attended by several descendants of Willa and Charles, Governor Newsom called the recent law “catalytic,” recognizing the need for wider reparations.
“What we’re doing here can be done and replicated anywhere else,” Newsom said.