LA county searching for legal heirs of Bruce Beach

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LA county searching for legal heirs of Bruce Beach

LA county is hunting for the closest relatives of a black family that was robbed of a well-known beach resort 100 years ago — in order to transfer ownership back to them, officials said Thursday.

The former site of “Bruce’s Beach” — once a scenic vacation spot for African Americans, run by Charles and Willa Bruce — was seized by the city in a racially motivated eminent domain grab in 1924, according to the LA County Anti-racism, Diversity and Inclusion initiative.

The county is now working with a legal team to find the couple’s “closest living heirs” in a process that may eventually include DNA testing, officials said.

“Please be advised that, under California law, the legal heirs are the closest living heirs (i.e., children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc.) of Charles and Willa Bruce,” the county said in a press release. “The County of Los Angeles is working with the legal services firm of Hinojosa & Forer LLP to conduct a thorough and transparent legal heir determination process.”

The Los Angeles Anti-Racism and Diversity Initiative concluded that Bruce’s Beach was seized in a racially motivated eminent domain grab.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The move comes after a bill allowed officials to transfer the site, which is currently run as a lifeguard center, to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.

The story of the resort dates back to 1912, when Willa Bruce bought the first of two lots in Manhattan Beach for $1,225. Together, she and Charles turned it into a thriving resort for black families who, because of racism and segregation laws, could not enjoy other coastal areas in southern California.

“Bruce’s Beach” soon became a vacation spot with other black families building their own summer cottages along the oceanside strip.

Los Angeles condemned Bruce’s Beach in 1924 and said the land was needed for a public park, but it stood empty for decades. It’s currently used as a lifeguard center.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In 1924, the city condemned the area and seized more than 20 properties through eminent domain law, claiming there was an urgent need for a public park. But the land stood empty for decades.

LA county officials are now urging anyone who believes they may be the closest living heir to the couple to contact Susan Devermont at sbd@hinojosaforer.com no later than Dec. 31.

Charles and Willa Bruce
Willa Bruce first purchased “Bruce’s Beach” in 1922. She and her husband Charles built it up into a resort that catered to African Americans who could not vacation elsewhere at the time.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Bruce's Beach
LA county is encouraging anyone who believes they are the closest living heir to contact Susan Devermont at sbd@hinojosaforer.com. DNA tests may be necessary to determine who is entitled to the beach.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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