Running rebar like a boss
"I love being a Black-owned, woman-owned company, I also like that it’s very physical. When I got into this, I was 29. I had to be smart. It was a great opportunity to grow." — Jacqueline Pruitt
is helping construct 'Destination Crenshaw'
By DARLENE DONLOE, Contributing Writer
CRENSHAW—Jacqueline Pruitt, founder and owner of Marvella Steel Placers (MSP) starts her day at 6 a.m., sitting at a desk in front of the computer in her spacious, yet sparsely decorated office in Signal Hill.
Behind her sits a fish tank where her turtle “Shelley” lives. Behind the tank is a poster visible through the water with Martin Luther King Jr.’s image and the words, “I Have A Dream.”
But Pruitt has more than a dream. As one of only a handful of female- and Black-owned rebar installation companies in the US, the Long Beach native is a trailblazer as well as a no-nonsense boss.
Marvella, which launched in 2016, has installed rebar (steel bar used to reinforce concrete) on three Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Purple Line stations and three stations at the Regional Connector Transit Project. The company also worked on the I-15 freeway between the 91 and 10 freeways.
Pruitt’s company currently is provides rebar to Destination Crenshaw (DC), the 1.3-mile open-air art and culture corridor being built along Crenshaw Boulevard. The project includes the landmark Sankofa Park, currently under construction, and for which MSP has delivered and installed rebar.
METRO CRENSHAW-LAX K LINE
With an average of 20-60 employees working on various transportation systems such as trains and highways, Pruitt must keep her eyes on the ball. Depending on the size of the project, Pruitt said her smallest contract could be in the neighborhood of $15,000 and her largest about $9.6 million.
In the highly competitive construction industry, Pruitt has fought for acceptance. Because Destination Crenshaw is special to her, she fought equally hard to win the bid for the history-making project.
"When I started reading about Destination Crenshaw, I said, 'this is my job,'" Pruitt said. "I really wanted it because it means something to me. It has meaning. I frequent that area. Leimert Park is special. To build that— yeah—I had to be a part of it. I had to."
Hers is a track record to make any company owner proud, but Pruitt has bested unusually long odds. When Pruitt was younger, she took several wrong turns. She wrestled with drug use and homelessness and was in and out of jail.
That life ended on May 19, 2003.
"I got arrested at one of the places I used to hang out," Pruitt said. "The idea to shoot up drugs was in my mind when the police came. A week prior I had broken down and asked God to help me. Thankfully, my parole officer sent me to treatment instead of jail. It worked."
Since then, Pruitt has been sober.
If not for the courage she mustered to turn her life around, MSP would have never been a dream. With her commitment, came a business model that has stood her in good stead.
"We perform safely and do high-quality work in the field and in the office," she said. "We are professional; we remain in compliance, have reasonable prices, and we work with our customers and provide certification if their project needs to meet certifications."
Since Marvella Steel Placers opened, the company has completed 22 jobs.
"Not bad for a girl," Pruitt said, smiling.
Now that she’s the boss and no longer physically working on construction sites, Pruitt said she misses "getting my hands dirty.
"The last time I got my hands dirty was more than a year ago," she said. "Then Destination Crenshaw started, and I couldn’t help but put my tool belt on and tie some bar with the guys. My hands are soft now. But, in case I’m needed, I still have my tool belt."
On this morning, Pruitt is checking for upcoming jobs, greeting some of her workers, taking calls, making deals, and talking to one of her foremen about the progress on a current job—all in the span of five minutes. And, she makes it look easy.
This is the life she dreamed for herself.
"I love being a Black-owned, woman-owned company," she said. "I also like that it’s very physical. When I got into this, I was 29. I had to be smart. It was a great opportunity to grow."
Marvella Steel Placers is named after Pruitt’s mother as a way to pay homage to the woman who always showed her unconditional love.
"My mother was my everything," Pruitt said. "Even though I was doing some things she didn’t necessarily approve of, she still loved me."
Now that Pruitt is gaining success, she’d like to see more women making their mark in construction.
"Women have a place in construction," she said. "Just look at me. If someone doesn’t give you a chance, make a way for yourself. There’s a place for everybody. Black women come from Egyptian queens. We can do anything."
Pruitt came by her interest in construction honestly. Her father, now 87, was in construction. She recalls vividly him being a hard worker who would leave the house at 4 a.m. to go to work.
"At the time, I didn’t know what he did," she said. "I knew he came home dirty and smelled unusual."
Two decades later, her actual leap into construction began quite by accident. One day she ran into a female friend, who is a carpenter working on a large project.
"She was dressed all dirty," said Pruitt, who studied psychology at Long Beach City College and Cal State Fullerton. "I asked her what she did and she told me. I asked how much it paid. She told me, and I said, "Where do I sign up?"
That’s when Pruitt applied for a pre-apprenticeship—during which she was taught trades from laying concrete, to plumbing, framing, and, rebar.
"When I got into construction, I had to learn to be assertive," she said. "My foreman told me to grow some balls. I learned how to be assertive and let people know what they have to do. I started as an apprentice, then became a journeyman, then a foreman. I then became a general foreman for the guy that got me into rebar. He planted a seed."
In Pruitt's third year as an apprentice, she earned the lead ironworker position on projects such as Berth 200 in the Port of Los Angeles, the Automated Container Movers in the Port of Long Beach, freeway lane additional bridges, abutments, and miles of retaining walls and barrier rail on the 91 Freeway.
Additionally, she worked slab on metal decks for the famous Wilshire Grand Center high-rise. Shortly after achieving journeyman status, she earned the foreman position and built the Hollywood Park Casino on time and under budget. From there she began managing three or more jobs simultaneously.
Pruitt has steadily grown into her self-assurance but admits she "had no idea" what owning her own company entailed.
"Well, I didn’t know this was an owning-your-own-company type deal," said Pruitt, who brought in her niece, as office manager, to help her run MSP. "All I wanted to do, initially, was to just go grab some guys I worked with and go do a job."
Instead, she ended up going to bidding classes and learning how to look for jobs.
"It took a year-and-a-half to figure it out," Pruitt said. “I was told by some people that because I was a Black woman-owned company, I’d be at a disadvantage contract-wise."
Today Pruitt is positioning Marvella Steel Placers to be the premier rebar installation company signatory to Ironworkers Local 416 holding the following designations: SBE, DBE, WBE, MBE, LBE, CBE and LGBTBE.
Throughout her life, Pruitt said people gave her a chance, so she wants to pay it forward.
"My hope is to continue to be a better me and be in a position to help others," she said. "There is a big piece of pie to be had. But [more people need to get] to the table to eat it.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn celebrated the transfer of the Bruces Beach property to the great grandsons of Willa and Charles Bruce, joining Supervisor Holly Mitchell, members of the Bruce family, including Anthony Bruce and Derrick Bruce, and local activist Kavon Ward for a ceremony at Bruce’s Beach to mark the occasion. Photo courtesy Janice Hahn
LA County officially surrenders deed for Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach
MANHATTAN BEACH (CNS)—In a celebratory event overlooking the ocean, Los Angeles County officials today formally presented the deed to a pristine piece of Manhattan Beach property to the descendants of a Black family who had the land stripped away nearly a century ago.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who spearheaded the effort to return Bruce's Beach to the family, and Supervisor Holly Mitchell, whose district now includes the property, oversaw the ceremonial event giving ownership of the land to the Bruce family.
"I always tell people that I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know the story of Bruce's Beach for most of my life," Hahn said. "... I learned to swim in the ocean a few blocks from here, but I didn't learn about what ... happened
to Willa and Charles Bruce until 2020 when I heard about a protest taking place at the park up the street."
That protest prompted Hahn to research the history of Bruce's Beach, and she learned that the property was now owned by the county. She then began a complex effort to return the land to the Bruce family.
Charles and Willa Bruce purchased the land in 1912 and operated a resort for Black residents until the city of Manhattan Beach condemned the property under a false pretense of developing a park. Instead, the property sat vacant for years after the Bruces and other Black families were evicted from the area.
Anthony Bruce, a great-great grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, was among the family members on hand for Wednesday's ceremony held near the property at Highland Avenue and 26th Street. He read off a long list of people who have supported and publicized the effort to have the land returned to the family.
He concluded, "Without God, we would not be here today. And finally, thank you all. God bless."
Activist Kavon Ward, who led protests for years pushing for justice for the Bruce family, said the spirits of Willa and Charles Bruce were present for Wednesday's event.
"Can we just take a moment to feel the energy of the ancestors present here today?" she said. "The ancestors are here. Feel it. Appreciate it."
Bruce family spokesman Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard added, "They're here. They're here. And they're smiling."
Under an agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors in late June, the land is officially being transferred to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce. The Bruces will lease the land back to
the county for $413,000 a year for the continued operation of county lifeguard facilities at the site.
The agreement also includes clauses that would allow the Bruces to later sell the property to the county for a price not to exceed $20 million.
Returning the property required a change in state law to authorize the county to transfer ownership of the land. It also required various actions at the county level to identify Bruce family heirs and settle the various financial implications of transferring the property.
"We can't change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start," Hahn said during the board meeting in June.
Hahn said the move will allow the Bruces' descendants a chance "to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them."
Willa and Charles Bruce purchased their land in 1912 for $1,225. They eventually added some other parcels and created a beach resort catering to Black residents, who had few options at the time for enjoying the Calif- ornia coast.
Complete with a bath house, dance hall and cafe, the resort attracted other Black families who purchased adjacent land and created what they hoped would be an oceanfront retreat. But the resort quickly became a target of the area's White populace, leading to acts of vandalism, attacks on vehicles of Black visitors and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Bruces were undeterred and continued operating their small enclave, but under increasing pressure, the city moved to condemn their property and surrounding parcels in 1924, seizing it through eminent domain
under the pretense of planning to build a city park.
The resort was forced out of business, and the Bruces and other Black families ultimately lost their land in 1929.
The families sued, claiming they were the victims of a racially motivated removal campaign. The Bruces were eventually awarded some damages, as were other displaced families. But the Bruces were unable to reopen their resort anywhere else in town.
Despite the city claiming the land was needed for a park, the property sat vacant for decades. It was not until 1960 that a park was built on a portion of the seized land, with city officials fearing the evicted families could
take new legal action if the property wasn't used for the purpose for which it was seized.
The exact parcel of land the Bruces owned was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995.The city park that now sits on a portion of the land seized by the city has borne a variety of names over the years. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park "Bruce's Beach" in honor of the evicted family, a move derided by critics as a hollow gesture.