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L.A. County to pay $20M for Black family’s seized land

Bruce’s Beach was a thriving resort for Black families before a wealthy coastal city seized the land under the guise of eminent domain in 1924.
Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8. 2021. Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, April 8. 2021. Los Angeles County plans to return the prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who built a seaside resort for African Americans but suffered racist harassment and were stripped of it by local city leaders a century ago, a county official said Friday, April 9, 2021.
An aerial view of Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 2021.Dean Musgrove / The Orange County Register via AP file

Southern California beachfront property that was taken from a Black couple through eminent domain a century ago and returned to their heirs last year will be sold back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million, officials said Tuesday.

The heirs’ decision to sell what was once known as Bruce’s Beach was announced by Janice Hahn, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, and state Sen. Steven Bradford, who led local and state governmental efforts to undo the long-ago injustice.

“This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the County for nearly $20 million and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century,” Hahn said in a statement.

"This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow," Hahn added in a tweet.

Bradford, who authored the state legislation that enabled the land’s return, said he supported the heirs’ decision to sell it to the county because current zoning regulations would prevent them from developing it in an economically beneficial manner.

The land in the city of Manhattan Beach was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built a small resort for African Americans on the south shore of Santa Monica Bay.

The Bruces suffered racist harassment from white neighbors, and in the 1920s the Manhattan Beach City Council condemned the property and took it through eminent domain. The city did nothing with the property, and it was transferred to the state of California and then to Los Angeles County.

The county built its lifeguard training headquarters on the land, which includes a small parking lot.

For generations, a small plaque in the middle of a lush green park near the original beachfront property served as the only reminder of the city's complicated history.

“For us as a family, this had a wonderful beginning. And then it turned into a tragic story for my family,” Anthony Bruce, the great- great-grandson of the Bruces, previously told NBC News. “Back in the day, prejudice was rampant. And unfortunately, my family was the victim of a hate crime and the prejudice that was around during those times.

Hahn learned about the property’s history and launched the complex process of returning the property, including determining that two great-grandsons of the Bruces are their legal heirs.

Terms of the transfer agreement completed last June called for the property to be leased back to the county for 24 months, with an annual rent of $413,000 plus all operation and maintenance costs, and a possible sale back to the county for nearly $20 million, the estimated value.