‘This is what reparations look like’: LA returns $20m public oceanfront property to heirs of 1924 owners

A black family whose home was finally returned to them after it had been commandeered from their ancestors roughly 100 years ago are now looking to sell the home back to the government for a huge profit in a move that some say is “exactly” how reparations are supposed to function.

The story begins in 1924, when the city of Manhattan Beach commandeered the property of Willa and Charles Bruce, a black couple, and proceeded to demolish it to build a park. Decades later in 1995, Los Angeles County took ownership of the property.

Then six months ago, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sought to remedy this error in judgment by returning the oceanfront property, known as Bruce’s Beach, to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.

“The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an unprecedented plan to return Bruce’s Beach to a Black family that had been run out of Manhattan Beach almost a century ago — paving the way for more efforts by the government to rectify historic injustices that were racially motivated,” the Los Angeles Times reported on June 28th.

“We can’t change the past, and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago. But this is a start, and it is the right thing to do,” board chair Janice Hahn reportedly said during the momentous occasion.

But months later, there’s been a twist in the story.

The Times confirmed on Tuesday that the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce are now seeking to sell the property back to Los Angeles for a stunning sum of $20 million.

“Attorney George Fatheree, who represents the family, said in an interview the sale was not unexpected and the family had always wanted to have the option to sell the property back to the county,” the Times reported.

“He emphasized the sale was still a victory for the Bruce descendants, who would no longer have the land their grandparents were robbed of but instead the money they should have inherited,” the outlet added.

In a statement, Fatheree said, “What was stolen from the family was the property, but what the property represented was the ability to create and preserve and group and pass down generational wealth. And by allowing the family now to have certainty in selling this property to the county, taking the proceeds of that sale, and investing it in their own futures — that’s restoring some of what the family lost. I think we all need to respect the family’s decision to know what’s in its best interest.”

He added that the decision was made based on multiple factors, including that none of the Bruce family descendants even live in Southern California anymore, that family members were interested in investing (versus just owning property), and that the property isn’t zoned for residential development.

“At the end of the day, what the family was very focused on was certainty and being able to access the proceeds of the sale,” he said.

The city doesn’t mind.

“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. This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow,” Hahn said in a statement.

Nor does state Sen. Steven Bradford — whose bill, SB 796, allowed the transfer of the property six months ago — mind.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m excited about the fact that the family can reap some monetary benefit from property that should have been in their family for 100 years had it not been stolen, but it’s disappointing that the family came to the conclusion of having to sell the property because they saw no long-term financial benefit. I think they just saw the writing on the wall and said, ‘Hey, we might as well sell it right now while the market’s good,’” he said.

But it’s not as if they aren’t already earning money from the property.

“The county maintains a lifeguard training facility on the property. Since the property was transferred last summer, the county had been leasing it from the Bruces for $413,000 a year,” the Times notes.

Granted, at that rate, it would have taken them nearly 50 years to earn $20 million.

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