PUBLIC ART – Council goes with minimalist monument at Bruce’s Beach

The proposed monument at Bruce’s Beach, which will be pared down to just the plaque and the circle. Rendering by Enviroscape

by Mark McDermott 

The Manhattan Beach City Council has approved a landscape plan to accompany the new plaque that will soon be installed at Bruce’s Beach Park. The council, at its final regularly scheduled meeting in January, unanimously decided that less was more. 

After over a yearlong process that recently included boulders, benches, and plant beds, the Council gave direction to staff to pare back the design to a simple, 17-ft. diameter concrete circle surrounding the plaque. 

Councilperson Joe Franklin said this approach better emphasizes what the plaque is meant to convey. 

“I just thought it could be simpler, so that it doesn’t detract from the message of the plaque,” Franklin said. “We worked very hard, the prior council, with the wording, with its placement…I personally think that [the proposed landscaping] doesn’t do anything for the message on the plaque, which is very powerful.” 

In 303 words, the plaque language gives a brief history of the events that began in 1912 when a Black couple, Charles and Willa Bruce, established a resort catering to the African American Angelino community, which in 1927 culminated with the forced dispossession of the Bruces and four other Black families from their land through the power of eminent domain. The plaque acknowledges that the City’s removal of the families occurred because they were Black. 

“The City’s action at the time was racially motivated and wrong,” the plaque states in its concluding lines. “Today, the City acknowledges, empathizes, and condemns those past actions. We are not the Manhattan Beach of one hundred years ago. We reject racism, hate, intolerance, and exclusion. This park is named in memory of Bruce’s Beach and in recognition of Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years as a city of respect and inclusion.” 

The landscaping proposal, developed by Mike Garcia and his company, Enviroscape, originally included more extensive landscaping. The council in December directed it to be pared down to give more unobstructed views of the ocean. The rendering n presented at the meeting, which occurred Jan. 17, removed the boulders and moved the plant beds to clear up sight lines to the ocean. 

“It’s a contemplative space where its central focus is on the view and the monument,” said Alexandra Latranga, the policy and management analyst heading the project for the City.  “And the circle, again, is that powerful symbol of inclusion and wholeness.” 

Franklin suggested it could be pared back even further. 

“So when you come up [to the monument], all you’re seeing is the plaque and the ocean,” Franklin said. “Remember, it was the ocean that attracted the Bruce family and all their guests to come to Manhattan Beach.” 

Councilperson David Lesser was receptive to making the design more minimalist, especially in light of the fact that the plaque is only part of what the City is planning on the upper tier of the park —  a public art project that will include a larger, more artistic interpretation of the park’s history.

Lesser said he formerly lived near the park and its ocean view is central to its identity, so the design would do best to interfere as little as possible. 

“It’s open space,” Lesser said. “I mean, it’s not so large, and many people are actively using this park as it is…On the other hand, I must say I’m really taken with the circle and the power of what this could be, because this is a place which [presents] an opportunity for people to reflect on the past of Manhattan Beach and what happened at that lot. And that’s the point of this project.” 

The public art project will come through the Cultural Arts Commission and its budget, over $300,000, will come from the City’s public art fund. The plaque landscaping was originally budgeted for $20,000 but projections have increased to $80,000, partly from the public art fund —  which is funded by developer fees on all construction projects in the city —  and partly through the General Fund. 

Mayor Pro Tem Richard Montgomery said that he wasn’t surprised by the budget increasing, and that he was fine with simply removing the flower beds. He said the key thing was to get the project moving forward. 

“We started in 2020. We’re in 2023 now,” he said. “So we’re in the right spot, right time, right place. Time to move on.” 

Mayor Steve Napolitano agreed. He said a minimalist design would also give whatever artist is engaged in the public art project more free rein to create something that better fit alongside the plaque, but the most important thing was to get something done. 

“It’s overdue,” Napolitano said. “I don’t want to spend more time not having that plaque up. 

The mayor made the motion, which passed 5-0. Latragna said the plaque is already in the City yard and concrete projects such as this typically takes about four weeks. She asked the mayor for a suggested timeframe.  “Yesterday,” he said. ER 


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