Black entrepreneurs built beach havens in California. Racism shut them down.
The hidden history of Santa Monica’s Black coastal enclaves.
In 1958, Silas White, a Black entrepreneur, set out to transform his dream — opening a Black beach club on the Santa Monica shores — into reality. He would call it the Ebony Beach Club, and he pictured it becoming one of the finest establishments in America for “the accommodation and comfort of my people,” he wrote in a letter to prospective members.
Here, Black members could lounge in luxury in the main entrance’s exquisite bar, be entertained at the jazz stage or take a leisurely dip in a crystal-clear pool. White had plans for exclusive golf tournaments, talent shows and fishing trips, all happening at a unique venue where Black residents could indulge in the “social enjoyment, recreation, and entertainment” that they were denied at “white” beach clubs like Santa Monica’s famous Casa del Mar and Edgewater.
He hoped to become one of the many successful Black-owned businesses in Santa Monica catering to the area’s growing African American community. These pioneers of America’s “frontier of leisure” thrived in Belmar Triangle, the Bay Street Beach and other Californian coastal communities, including “Bruce’s,” a resort owned by African Americans in Manhattan Beach.
For more than 50 years, these spaces served as safe havens for Black Californians seeking refuge from white harassment. They were integral to their communities’ identity and economic growth. But as is often the case in American history, these descendants of formerly enslaved people who moved West in search of a better life were eventually economically sabotaged or driven out. In White’s case, Santa Monica City officials used eminent domain to take his property before his dream could ever be realized.