Barbie house? Batman’s bachelor pad? The story behind Santa Monica’s most meme’d homes
On a sunny Tuesday in Santa Monica, most tourists flock to the pier or take a stroll along the boardwalk. But a select few splinter off to catch a glimpse of a lesser-known attraction a couple of blocks away: the Barbie house.
It’s hard to miss the striking structure but easy to see how it earned its nickname. Clad in vibrant shades of purple and pink, the home looks like a super-sized doll house. For years, rumors have even swirled that it was built for Barbie creator Ruth Handler.
Right next door stands the antidote for the home’s saccharine display: a neighboring property painted entirely black. Angelenos call it the Batman house or the Marilyn Manson house. If the Barbie house is Dr. Jekyll, this is its Hyde.
Google Maps identifies the two homes as the Goth & Bubblegum Houses, and they’ve gone viral in recent years thanks to their stark contrast in style, which seemingly represent two ends of multiple spectrums. Cool vs. crazy. Quiet vs. loud. Minimalist vs. maximalist.
Seemingly every passerby identified with one over the other.
“I like the Barbie house because it just goes for it. It’s flashy in a fun way,” said Tori Breen, a tourist visiting from Iowa.
“I’m a little more laid-back,” said her friend Anna Swansby. “I like the black one.”
Together, the homes have created an odd new Instagram destination, even if — or maybe because — their claim to fame is decidedly skin-deep. Cue tired L.A. joke.
Popping up in tweets, TikToks and even making a cameo in “Grand Theft Auto V,” the pair of properties found minor internet fame in 2015 after a Reddit post joked that the homes were owned by Barbie and Voldemort, according to Know Your Meme. The jokes haven’t stopped since, with most memes using the houses to compare things with clashing appearances.
So how did the two homes become so inextricably linked? By complete accident.
In the 1990s, the duo was actually part of a trio called the Sherbet Homes, which got its name after a developer bought three neighboring properties along Pacific Coast Highway and painted them pastel shades. The first was painted baby blue, the second seafoam-green and yellow, and the third was dolled up with the pink-and-purple “Barbie” look that remains today.
The paint jobs were a product of the era, mirroring the vibrant pastel shades seen in sitcoms such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Full House.”
“It was never intended to be the Barbie house. It was just a fun Cape Cod-style property,” said WCI Group agent Jonathan Spica, who knows the owners of the pink house and handled the sale of the black house in 2021.
But over time, tastes change. In 2007, the baby-blue house sold to a new owner who stripped the siding and painted it brown, casting the home back to anonymity. It sold again in 2015 and now sports a standard exterior of white and blue.
The seafoam-green house traded hands in 2012, and the new owner installed the all-black look that it has today — an early adopter to the bold, masculine aesthetic that’s still en vogue.
So the pink house is the only one of the three that still boasts its original style — and according to Spica, that won’t change anytime soon.
“The current owners don’t want to change it. They like the mythology of it, and they’re aware of the memes,” Spica said. “People take pictures in front of the house all the time. It’s a big Instagram location.”
Mobster Bugsy Siegel was gunned down in a Beverly Hills mansion in 1947. Now that famous mansion is on the market for $17 million.
The internet-famous abodes have drawn the eye of some high-profile buyers over the years. Mark Cuban stopped by for a tour of the Barbie house when it was on the market in 2015, according to Sotheby’s agent Victoria Risko, who held the listing.
He passed, but it eventually sold to a top sports agent who decided to keep the splashy exterior but remodel the living spaces with stone floors and a rooftop deck.
“I thought he’d change the exterior, but he loves it,” said Berkshire Hathaway agent Gary Glass, who represented the buyer.
The black house was formerly owned by the parents of music mogul Scooter Braun and has since sold to an entertainment executive, records show.
Subscribers get exclusive access to this story
We’re offering L.A. Times subscribers special access to our best journalism. Thank you for your support.
Explore more Subscriber Exclusive content.
A handful of misconceptions have surrounded the Barbie home since it was built. Some think it was owned by Ruth Handler, who invented the Barbie doll in 1959 and served as president of the toy company Mattel Inc. Though fun, the rumor is false. Records show she lived a few miles up the beach in Malibu.
Another misconception is that the inside of the Barbie house matches the outside. Also untrue. Since it was built, it has always featured a neutral interior style with small improvements over the years.
It’s often confused with Barbie Beach House, a retro filming location in Venice Beach loaded with shag carpets, polka dots and peace signs. That location can be booked for film shoots or events and commands anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000 per day.
“It looks like something out of an ‘Austin Powers’ movie,” Spica said.
With the “Barbie” movie set to hit theaters in July, many thought the Barbie house would make an appearance. While parts of the movie were filmed around Venice Beach and Santa Monica, Spica said the owners never heard from the film crew about incorporating the home — though they’d probably be open to it.
Agents say that although the pink and black paint jobs helped the homes gain notoriety, they haven’t affected the property values. The pink house sold for $5.4 million in 2015, and the black house traded hands for $6.45 million in 2021. Both sales were pretty standard for beachfront lots in Santa Monica.
Data reveal that if not a buyer’s market, then the Bay Area is a more buyer-friendly market. Homes are relatively cheaper — a pattern that may manifest in Los Angeles.
“If anything, an unintentional benefit is that the Barbie house is so bright that you see it coming. It’s like a sign post to help get you there,” Risko said. “You can’t just pull over on PCH, so if you accidentally drive past it, it’s a disaster.”
In the same way that passerby identify with either the pink house or the black house, the aesthetics of the homes seem to match with their respective owners as well. Spica said the owner of the black house wouldn’t have bought the pink house and vice versa.
“If you describe the two owners, one’s personality is more black, and one is more pink,” he said. “It’s like the joke where the dog matches the owner.”
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.