The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night got its first look at proposed designs for a memorial garden to be created along with the new plaque at Bruce’s Beach.
However, councilmembers appeared most interested in the first design choice, which features a circular pathway around the plaque.
“I really like this design because it is very impactful,” said Mike Garcia, whose company, Enviroscape LA, was hired to design the garden. “It almost looks like a keyhole – you could almost say this is the ‘key’ to the future.”
The memorial garden would be accessed from the Eastern-most side of Bruce’s Beach Park, from the sidewalk on Highland Ave. between 26th and 27th Streets. While reading the plaque, visitors would be facing westward toward the beach.
Councilmembers asked for several revisions to the plan: 1) to incorporate low bench-type seating; 2) to remove or lower any plantings in front of the plaque that might obstruct the view; and 3) to remove decomposed granite from the design.
City staff members will bring a revised proposal for the garden back to the council in early 2023. They will provide notice to nearby residents of the new design concept prior to returning it to the City Council for discussion.
A “Stopping Place”
The new plaque and memorial garden will replace an earlier plaque that stood in that location. The new plaque language, which was approved by the City Council in March, explains more of the history. It will also include a QR code linking to the full Bruce’s Beach history report on the city website.
(The new plaque has already been ordered and received by the city, and is waiting in storage until the garden design plans are complete.)
Garcia told the council that he and his staff had spent several hours on the site trying to understand more about the park’s usage and visitors.
“One thing I had never noticed until I spent more than 10 minutes there is that this is a stopping site,” he said. “This is a site where people are coming to from out of town. People are stopping and taking pictures. One woman was taking pictures and she was crying.”
Garcia and the councilmembers agreed that the design should preserve and enhance the “contemplative” nature of the location.
Manhattan Beach and Bruce’s Beach History
Since 2020, the city of Manhattan Beach has engaged in an emotional debate over how –
or how much – to recognize Willa and Charles Bruce, pioneering Black
business owners who created a thriving resort for Black beach-goers in
Manhattan Beach in the 1920s.
the mid-1920s, with pressure from community members who did not
want Black beachgoers in town, Manhattan Beach’s Board of Trustees (a
precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain,
condemning the lots and displacing the Bruce family as well as other
families who had
settled in the area. (Of the 30 lots condemned, six were owned by five
Black families and had been developed with cottages, homes, or, in the
Bruces’ case, a two-story building for their business; and the remaining
25 lots were owned by White property owners that had no structures
built upon them and were uninhabited.)
The land was acquired by the state of California in
1948, and was transferred to L.A. County in 1995. The beachfront property the Bruce family once owned is now the site of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Training Headquarters.
effort led by Los Angeles County leaders to return the land to the
Bruce family reached a significant milestone in September 2021 when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 796, a bill permitting the return of the county-owned beachfront property to the Bruce family, into law. L.A. County officials handed over the deed to the property to the descendants of the Bruce family in July 2022. The county also created a plaque on the Strand that details the history of the beachfront property. Meanwhile,
within Manhattan Beach, it was not until 2006 that the city publicly
acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area east of the
beachfront property Bruce’s Beach Park and establishing a plaque in that
(park) location. In the summer of 2020, a movement began growing for the city
to take further action to recognize the Bruces.
Despite creating a Bruce’s Beach Task Force and adopting a history report created
by the task force, the Manhattan Beach City Council struggled for
nearly a year with finding compromise on the wording, location, and
style for a new marker honoring Bruce’s Beach and the Bruce family.
recommendation of the city’s Parks and Rec Commission. Councilmembers
voted 4-1 to uphold the current special events policy that excludes
Bruce’s Beach as well as Larsson Parkette and 8th Street Parkette from
the permitting process.
Although a “Juneteenth” celebration in 2021 had brought large crowds to Bruce’s Beach, Juneteenth 2022 was a relatively quiet day at Bruce’s Beach Park, with just a scattering of families enjoying picnics and with city-contracted security staff on hand.