Campaign Pushes for Manhattan Beach to Honor Full Black History of Bruce’s Beach
There is a new campaign underway urging the city of Manhattan Beach to commemorate Bruce’s Beach, including telling a more full history of the site and making restitution to the Bruce family from whom the site was taken in the 1920s. Bruce’s Beach was a thriving Black-owned and Black-patronized beach resort, until the the city of Manhattan Beach seized the site via eminent domain.
In 1912, the beachfront site was purchased by Charles and Willa Bruce, who, starting in 1915, built a beach lodge there. By 1920, Bruce’s Beach was a popular destination for Black Angelenos, who were denied access to most Southern California beaches.
Bruce's Beach resort had a bathhouse, a restaurant and direct access to the ocean. They organized and hosted events for African Americans in their facilities. pic.twitter.com/sBWPX6SXA9
— Ma$on (@FirstGentleman) February 17, 2020
The Bruces and their patrons endured harassment and persecution, including from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1924, the city of Manhattan Beach officially voted to seize Bruce’s property via eminent domain, ostensibly to build a park.
By 1927, the resort had been shuttered. The land went undeveloped for decades.
In the 1950s, fearing that Bruce heirs might sue to get their land back, the city developed the site into a park, named Bayview Terrace Park in 1962.
In 1974, it was renamed Parque Culiacán after a sister city in Mexico.
In 2006, the Manhattan Beach City Council approved returning the name to Bruce’s Beach. The city hosted a 2007 renaming celebration.
Today, the site is a large sloped grassy park. At the top – along Highland Avenue – a plaque commemorates Bruce’s Beach, but tells a fairly sanitized version of its history, stating that “Those tragic circumstances [1924’s eminent domain of the Bruces] reflected the views of a different time.”
The site continues to serve as a gathering place for Black Angelenos, including Bruce family reunions and a recent New Black History Makers honoring of Breonna Taylor.
Last month, three groups came together to press Manhattan Beach to go beyond naming and address the full history of Bruce’s Beach. The MB/HB/MBUSD Community Panel for Equity, Anti-Racist Movements (ARMs) around the South Bay (L.A.), and Bruce family descendant Duane Shepard Sr. created an online petition calling on the city of Manhattan Beach to:
- Replace the present plaque with one that acknowledges the city’s role in seizing the property: “a historically accurate plaque that is meant to commemorate Bruce’s Beach, the owners, and their bravery so that residents and visitors can learn the true history of the land.”
- Provide restitution, including restoring the land to Bruce family and providing “restitution for loss of revenue for 95 years and monetary damages.”
- Issue a public statement from the city of Manhattan Beach to address the park’s history and the city’s “commitment to change the current racial intolerant climate in city administration, law enforcement, and the community as a whole.”
ARMs spokesperson Kavon Ward stated that, to date, “We have not received a response from a Manhattan Beach elected official” though “Vice Mayor Suzanne Hadley did however make a statement during her interview with KTLA stating that the Bruces were ‘compensated fairly’ when they were forced out of Manhattan Beach.”
Also note that broadly, the civil rights struggle for beach access for communities of color continues today. One example of this is how South Bay cities colluded with Metro to prevent easy direct transit access to beaches; it remains difficult to take a bus from South L.A. to South Bay beaches, though they are only 4-10 miles apart. Metro is planning to someday partially remedy this in its as-yet-unfunded Transit to Trails Plan, but beach access remains an issue.