Bruce’s Beach, Part II

by Lisa McDivitt
Published July 13, 2006

What’s in a name?
“Now we have the chance to right that wrong,” wrote long time Manhattan Beach activist Lillian Light in a letter to city council that was read by her husband at last Wednesday’s meeting.
“It is a lynchpin to the whole history,” said resident Patrick McBride, who has been active in the efforts to rename the park. “It is an icon, not just a name.”
The hearing then, turned to the relevance of keeping the name Parque Culiacan. Some argued that it represents the cultural outreach of Manhattan Beach. Others disagreed.
“I feel that Parque Culiacan is pretty passé,” said Brigham, who was not present at the public hearing, but spoke from his home in Paso Robles, where he recently moved. Local historian and former councilwoman Jan Dennis noted, “From a historical standpoint, Culiacan has nothing to do with Manhattan Beach. Bruce’s Beach is part of the city’s history.”
Although the United States/Mexico Sister City Program was active for many years after it was initiated in 1962, by the early 1980s, Culiacan was no longer a sister city.
“The Sister City program is a program that really embraces cultural history and exchange,” countered Bob Bohner, the current president of Manhattan Beach’s Sister City Committee. Marge Crutchfield, who has been active in the Sister City program for more than 30 years, said she felt badly about references at the council meeting to Culiacan’s reputation as the drug capital of Mexico. While some were saying that Culiacan “dumped” Manhattan Beach, Crutchfield said that Culiacan wanted to start year-long exchanges, and that no Manhattan Beach residents were willing to accept students for such a long time period. Crutchfield said the relationship just faded away in the early 1980s.
A Frontline story on PBS, described Culiacan as the hometown to some of Mexico’s most infamous drug traffickers.”
“The drug business is so ingrained in Culiacan,” Frontline reported, “that its souvenir shops sell items with emblems commemorating the outlaw culture: marijuana leaf belts, machine gun buckles, embroideries of airplanes, like those used for smuggling.”
Bohner later said he resented the way Culiacan was represented during the meeting as having “dumped” Manhattan Beach. He called the talk of it being the drug capital of Mexico “garbage.”
During the meeting some of the Sister City people said the name Culiacan Park was a more recent and more positive reference than Bruce’s Beach Park.
“People say it’s ancient history. It’s not ancient history,” responded Gail Runk. In the 1960s, Runk was instrumental in the creation of the Manhattan Hermosa Fair Housing Act after discovering that landlords would tell minority apartment seekers that there were no apartments available and later rent apartments to white renters.
Runk also recalled a time in the 1970s when a cross was burned on the lawn of a black resident.
Ted Lamb, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, who voted for the name Bruce’s Beach Park, said that he felt the historical reference was important. “It does bring up an ugly period and an ugly series of incidents,” Lamb said, but added that it is a chapter worth remembering.
In the late 1920s, city officials moved to make Manhattan’s beaches for whites-only. A 19-year-old UCLA student, Elizabeth Cately, waded into the waters anyway, ignoring police who ordered her to leave. She was jailed in her swimsuit, becoming one of the first blacks to use civil disobedience in the fight for civil rights. Richard Garcia, the executive director of the Center for Law in the Public Interest called the period of Bruce’s Beach and the subsequent civil rights protests, a “proud history” in his letter to the city council.
Following the discussion of Bruce’s Beach’s history, resident, Myron Pullen told the city council, “I have lived in Manhattan Beach since 1965 and I knew nothing about what we’ve been talking about,” he said.