LA County Supervisor Hahn leads effort to transfer Bruce’s Park property to Bruce family descendents

 

Video by JP Cordero

by Kevin Cody

A coalition of regional and state elected officials, notable for its absence of any Manhattan Beach elected officials, held a press conference in Manhattan Beach, at Bruce’s Beach Park on Friday morning. 

Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn began the press conference by announcing new legislation to enable ownership of the Los Angeles County lifeguard training center to be transferred to descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. Hahn expressed hope that the lifeguard headquarters would be leased back to the County, but said that decision would be up to the Bruce family descendents. The multi-lot, beachfront property is valued at $75 million.

In the early 1920s, the Bruces owned Bruce’s Lodge, a beachfront resort, on the property now occupied by the lifeguard training center. In 1924, the Manhattan Beach City Council  condemned the Black couple’s property for a park. Several adjacent properties, owned by both Blacks and whites, were also condemned for the park.

“To sow salt in the wounds, the city kept the land vacant until 1957, when they planted some grass there,” Hahn said.

Subsequent speakers at the press conference faulted the current Manhattan City Council for its recent refusal to issue an apology to the Bruces’ descendents.

On Tuesday, the council voted to issue an acknowledgment that the property condemnation was racially motivated. But the council stopped short of issuing an apology for their predecessors’ use of eminent domain to force out the Bruces and their Black neighbors.

“It is not for the Manhattan Beach residents of today to apologize for what the residents from 100 years ago have done,” Councilman Joe Franklin said, in introducing the motion for an acknowledgement, rather than an apology. “It’s difficult for me to believe that one can sincerely apologize for something they have not done. It rings hollow.” 

State Senator Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) is introducing legislation to facilitate transfer of the County lifeguard property.

State Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who spoke after Hahn at the press conference, referred to the Manhattan Council’s acknowledgement as “tepid, at best, and far from a full throated apology. They clearly do not endorse what we are trying to accomplish here, today.”

Bradford said he will introduce Senate Bill 796 on Monday. The bill would remove State restrictions that presently prevent the County from transferring ownership of the lifeguard training center to Willa and Charles Bruce’s descendants. 

Bradford is chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and a member of the newly formed State Reparations Task Force.

“If you can inherit generation wealth, you should inherit generation debt. This state owes a debt to the African American community,” Bradford said.

He described returning the Bruce’s Lodge property to its founders’ descendants as “setting a powerful precedent for reparations and compensations owed African Americans.”

State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) urged the Manhattan Beach council to issue an apology.

South Bay Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a co-author of the bill to enable the property transfer, defended Manhattan Beach during his press conference comments, but also faulted the city council for not issuing an apology. 

“I know Manhattan Beach is not a racist city. I know there are good people, like Councilwoman Hildy Stern and former mayor Mitch Ward, who continue to fight for an apology from the city of Manhattan Beach,” Muratsuchi said. Stern was the sole council vote against the acknowledgement motion. She favored an apology.

“In 1988, President Ronald Reagan apologized on behalf of the country to 110,000 Japanese Americans who not only lost their property, but also their freedom during World War II…. If the President can do it, then the Mayor and City Council of Manhattan Beach can do it,” Muratsuchi said.

Chief Dwayne Yellowfeather Shephard spoke on behalf of Willa and Charles Bruce’s descendents.

Chief Dwayne Yellowfeather Shephard spoke at the press conference on behalf of Willa and Charles Bruce’s descendents.

“My family told me to tell the Manhattan Beach City Council, ‘When you go low, we stand toe to toe.’ We will not tolerate insults coming from the council and suggest you start revising your budget. We are going to stay here until the job is done — restoration of our land and restitution for loss of enterprise and punitive damages for institutional racism by this city, which railroaded our family out of here,” Shephard

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Olsby recalled his grandmother’s stories about Bruce’s Lodge.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby recalled attending the 2006 renaming of the park as Bruce’s Beach Park. 

“It’s always emotional for me when I visit the park and the lifeguard training center because I know its history,” Osby said, whose department includes the lifeguards.

“My grandmother was born in 1905. She came across the country in a horse drawn wagon, from Kentucky to San Diego, where I was raised. There were no Black beaches in San Diego, or in Orange County. So, if she and her family wanted a peaceful day at the beach, they had to go to Manhattan Beach, a five hour drive up Highway 101. 

“When she told me about Bruce’s Lodge being closed, she would become emotional. As a kid, I didn’t understand it. But the next nearest beach for Blacks was Santa Monica, another hour’s drive, which was too far. So her family was denied a beach experience.”

Mitch Ward led the effort to name the park Bruce’s Beach when he was Mayor of Manhattan Beach.

Mitch Ward served on the Manhattan Beach City Council from 2003 to 2011. He is the only Black to have served on the council, and was responsible for the park’s renaming in 2006.

Ward said he learned about Willa and Charles Bruce from former Mira Costa High School teacher Bob Brigham, whose master’s thesis at Fresno State was about Bruce’s Park.

“Bob told me he asked his mother, when he was a child, why the park was just weeds. And she told him, ‘We don’t talk about it.’”

“I told him, ‘When I become mayor, I’m going to talk about it.”

Kavon Ward founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach.

The press conference’s final speaker was Kavon Ward, a Manhattan Beach resident and founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach.

“Death threats, intimidation, and dog whistles won’t silence me. Now is the time for reckoning. Apologize, make amends, pay restitution to the Bruces,” she said.

“We are on the precipice of making history.” ER

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Written by: Kevin Cody

Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com

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