Los Angeles County is filled with stories, one of which has been buried underneath the Viceroy Hotel at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica for decades. “I’ve gone through a journey of emotions since learning about this,” Milana Davis stated. “For a very long time, I didn’t know about it.”

Currently, the Viceroy stands on property owned by the city of Santa Monica, which acquires rent from the hotel per a long-term lease agreement. However, the methods that permitted the city to own the property are now being reevaluated. Before Santa Monica took ownership of the property, it was owned by Black entrepreneur and Davis’s uncle, Silas White. Mr. White originally purchased the land in 1957. Davis said, “I’ve gone through disbelief at what occurred and what happened to him and what he endured.”

History shows that Mr. White bought the land—located just two blocks from the beach and the former Elks Lodge building—with high hopes. He originally intended to turn the space into the Ebony Beach Club, which would have served as a place where the local Black community could gather and socialize during a period when such establishments were scarce. The Elks Lodge building was demolished within a few years after the city took the property through eminent domain, only one year after the purchase.

Davis explained, “They claim that the reason they took it was because it was needed for a public parking lot, but eight years after they took it from him, it was suddenly found to be the perfect spot for a first-class four-star hotel.” In 1962, Mr. White passed away, only four years after the city took his property and his dream. His story nearly died with him.

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Mr. White’s daughter, Connie White, stated, “We were all silent about it, and Milana even lived with my mom for a while and she mentioned that my mother never said anything about it.” White (90), who now lives in Northern California, is part of a rigorous effort to have the land returned to her family. “He wanted it to be a haven for Black and also brown people, and people of color, period, where they could go and relax and enjoy themselves,” she said.

The family recently learned of what happened thanks to an organization called Where Is My Land? The organization, founded by Kavon Ward, is geared toward identifying cases of land theft from Black landowners throughout the United States.

Ward is now focusing her attention on the White family’s case stating, “We don’t want apologies. We don’t want another plaque, and if you do provide that, we want that in conjunction with true justice, which is a land return and compensation for decades of wealth lost.”

Ward joined the White family to sit down with Santa Monica city manager David White and Councilwoman Caroline Torosis to speak about the case. According to Torosis, the city is actively trying to adopt a citywide equity plan. The plan includes the exploration of models for restitution and reparations, however, in regards to returning the land to the Whites, how much support exists on the council is unclear. She said, “If we really do pride ourselves on being a progressive city, we need to take a hard look at our history.” Torosis continued, “We know that this process is not simple, but I think it’s clear that we must figure out what we could do, and to me, reparations means returning the land.”

In part, the city of Santa Monica said in a statement, “Santa Monica hears and acknowledges the voices on this topic in the community and is actively seeking appropriate and realistic remedies. We know that for those who have been wronged by the city’s past discriminatory practices, justice can’t come soon enough, and we take what we’ve learned from the families and individuals who have been harmed by these acts very seriously.”

The city did not acknowledge the White family specifically, but Connie White believes justice needs to be served. She stated, “Something tangible and meaningful has to be presented in order for us to feel some form of justice in this.”

As for Davis, she also expects action, saying, “The city of Santa Monica has proclaimed in many spaces that they apologize to the Black community. I’m just wondering, what’s behind the words? Is there intention? Will there be action? Because it’s warranted.”