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Old Posted Dec 6, 2015, 1:22 AM
tovangar2 tovangar2 is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: West Los Angeles
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Bay Street Beach / "The Inkwell"

I don't think Bay Street Beach / "The Inkwell" has come up before.

Beach Day, ca 1926.
Arthur, Jr and his mom, Verna, enjoy Bay Street Beach.
Club Casa del Mar is behind them:


There have been Black residents of Santa Monica since the late 1800s, with a neighborhood centered around 4th St and Bay.

In 1908, residents bought the fire-damaged Washington Street School from SMSD and moved it to 4th and Bay to be rehabbed into M.E. Philips Chapel. It's been remodeled, but it's still there:


Another African-American neighborhood was where the Civic Center is now and another on Broadway between 2nd and 6th. A fourth site was between Pico and Santa Monica Boulevards, from 14th to 24th streets.

Using the beach at Santa Monica was always fraught with the danger of harassment. However, the locals were safest from Pico south, in Ocean Park, well away from the early tourist areas. (The "Prohibited" isn't a racially-motivated sign. The whole sign isn't shown, but I'm guessing that the authorities probably just didn't want people climbing out on the rocks):


A group of Black businessmen decided to build a resort on the beach (on the abandoned ruin of the Ocean Park Chrystal Plunge), just north of Bay Street and south of Pico, but the city refused them a permit. They were left with no choice except to sell to Anglos. The Casa del Mar Club, AKA "The Dell"' (Charles F Plummer) was built in 1924. There was no trouble with the permit:


Casa del Mar fenced the beach in front of their club, running the fencing right into the water. Other White development went in south of Bicknell (also fenced), leaving African-Americans with a 200' stretch of sand from Bay Street to Bicknell, squeezed on both ends by White exclusivity. Blacks called this section "Bay Street Beach", but Anglos called it "The Inkwell" (the standard pejorative for beaches in the US attended by Black people).

The Santa Monica Bay Protective League was in full swing by then, proud of their membership of "1,000 Caucasians". The League's aim was to “eliminate all objectionable features or anything that now is or will provide a menace to the bay district or prove detrimental to our property values.” . They had a huge influence on the city government. LAT reported, “Settlement of Negroes is Opposed: Santa Monica and Ocean Park Blocks Plan for Colony of Colored Folk”, ignoring the fact that African-Americans had already lived in the municipality for decades. (ATM the African-American population of Santa Monica is less than 4%)

There was other trouble on the coast. When a Black family attempted to use the beach at the mouth of Topanga Canyon in 1920, police beat and shot the dad, Arthur Valentine, and then arrested him for assault with a deadly weapon. A stalwart DA charged the cops. But nothing happened for three years, during which time Valentine was regularly set upon by police officers. In the end, all charges were dropped against the officers... and Valentine:

google maps

Manhattan Beach also had an African-American neighborhood, complete with a 1912 beach resort, including a bath house, dining hall and rental cottages owned by Willa and Charles Bruce. The city government took it in 1924, and the neighborhood too, by eminent domain, saying it was needed for a park (slim compensation was paid, the resulting lawsuits were all dismissed). The land was cleared and then stood empty. The majority of the parcel was finally turned into Bayview Park in the 1960s and then renamed "Bruce's Beach" in 2007 with attendant apologies. However, a shameful percentage of Manhattan Beach residents still insist on calling it N*gg*r Park in smug triumph. Manhattan Beach is less than 1% Black.

google maps

Charles and Willa Bruce:


Charles and Willa on their wedding day:


State and local laws, from 1896 through the 20s ensured equal access for all at the beaches, but that was far from what was happening IRL. Like now, there were great laws on the books, but uneven enforcement. Plus the overwhelming influence of the social construct often trumps both the letter and the spirit of the law.

This 1947 diagram map detail shows Bay Street Beach as "Colored Use" and marks the boundaries of the private clubs to the north and south, which extended out into the ocean:

City of Santa Monica, Los Angeles County Master Shoreline Plan map, 1947, Division of Beaches and Parks, Department of Natural Resources,
Department of Engineering, State of California. USC Special Collections

alisonrosejefferson (detail)

However, Bay Street Beach was much enjoyed and appreciated. While never giving up the struggle for equal rights, African-Americans from all over Los Angeles drove or rode the Red Cars to the beach at weekends. I've read that Bay Street Beach was the only beach in Southern California relatively free of harassment.

From Verna Dekard Lewis Williams' 1924 photo album:

Verna and friend:


Verna and friends:

laist (detail)

Verna Dekard and Arthur Lewis, shortly before their wedding, up against the Dell's fence:


Nick Gabaldon, a Santa Monica native, born in 1927, of Latino and African-American descent, taught himself to surf, while still in high school, on a 13' rescue board lent to him by lifeguard Pete Peterson. Gabaldon was a natural and the first documented Black surfer. He remains a hero to many. Without a car and unable to hitchhike (no one would pick him up), Nick paddled across the bay from Bay Street to Malibu (and back) on his board to ride the big waves there. Gabaldon was welcomed at Malibu by the other surfers. His new surfing buddies started giving him rides, saving him his 12-mile watery commute. One said, "Race wasn't really an issue at Malibu," Everyone liked him. And he was as pretty smooth surfer, too." Nick, a student at SMC (his education had been interrupted by his service during WWII), was killed at Malibu in 1951 while trying to "shoot the pier". He was 24.

Nick and his buds at Malibu:


In 2008 a plaque was unveiled at Bay Street Beach, commemorating "The Inkwell" and Nick Gabaldon:

Alison Rose Jefferson, who has extensively documented Bay Street Beach and related issues, wrote the inscription:



From Bay to Bicknell, the 200' of Bay Street Beach:

google maps

Bay Street Beach viewed from inside Casa del Mar (now a hotel):

google maps photos

For more info, click photo links.

This post has been amended with the gracious and welcome help of Alison Rose Jefferson

Last edited by tovangar2; Dec 29, 2015 at 2:42 AM. Reason: fix link + add photos
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