In an aerial view, Bruce's Beach (C) is wedged between expensive real estate on April 19, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California. The beachfront property was once a seaside resort owned by Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple, which catered to African Americans. Amid the Jim Crow era, the city claimed the property in 1924 through eminent domain while vastly underpaying the couple for the land. Los Angeles County is making plans to return the prime beachfront property, which may be worth $75 million, to Bruce family descendants.
Seized beach property to be returned to Black family almost 100 years later
03:05 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A plan to return stretch of prime Southern California beachfront real estate to the descendants of its rightful Black owners, nearly a century after the parcel was taken by the city of Manhattan Beach, is scheduled for a vote before the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Known as Bruce’s Beach, the resort had offered Black families a place to enjoy the California life and was a labor of love for owners Charles and Willa Bruce. But harassment from White neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan tore away at their dreams. The final blow came in 1924 when the city took the property through eminent domain and paid the couple a fraction of what they asked for. The city wanted the land for a park.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will enable the county to return the beachfront property to their descendants. The two lots are worth approximately $75 million in total, officials confirmed to CNN eat the time. The houses directly next to the property have hefty price tags of around $7 million each.

The new law was authored by Sen. Steve Bradford, who sits on the state’s newly formed reparations task force.

“This is what reparations look like,” said Bradford, insisting that the county is not giving anything to the Bruce family, yet simply returning their stolen property.

The Bruces purchased the land for $1,225 in 1912, and built several facilities, including a cafe and changing rooms. It was one of the few beaches where Black residents could go because so many other local beaches did not permit Black beachgoers.

But some White neighbors resented the resort’s popularity, a Bruce family spokesperson told CNN earlier this year.

White supremacists and Klan members posted “no trespassing’ signs” and slashed tires so Black families would avoid the area. The KKK attempted to set the property on fire and succeeded in burning down a local Black family’s home nearby, county officials said earlier this year.

Anthony Bruce, the great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, speaks at a press conference where California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 796, authorizing the return of ocean-front land to the Bruce family

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn told reporters that when scare tactics didn’t work, Manhattan Beach declared eminent domain in 1924. The couple eventually were paid about $14,125. They died just five years later.

The city left the land vacant for several decades after it took ownership in 1929.

Today, the property is now a park with a lawn, parking lot and a lifeguard training facility.

It no longer belongs to Manhattan Beach. The property was transferred to the state and to Los Angeles County in 1995.

When the county supervisors attempted to return the property to the Bruce family last spring, they discovered state eminent domain law prevented them from doing so.

“If the Bruces had been allowed to keep the property that they purchased, the impact that would have had on generations of not only Bruce family descendants but the other African Americans who began to buy parcels surrounding Bruce’s Beach,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

“The law was used to steal this property 100 years ago, and the law today will give it back,” said Hahn, who will take the next steps to identify the legal heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce and eventually return the property to the family.

“I am hopeful that the people in California will see the importance of trying to right this wrong,” said Shepard, the family spokesman.

State Sen. Bradford said the story of Charles and Willa Bruce is not unique in California.

“Black-owned properties experienced tremendous amounts of hatred, harassment, hostility and violence at the hand of the Ku Klux Klan, who cold-bloodedly threatened the Bruces and other families who dared to enjoy their property.”

CNN’s Alexandra Meeks contributed to this report.