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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 glimpse a lesser-known attraction a few blocks away: the Barbie house.

It’s hard to miss the striking structure, but it’s easy to see how it earned its nickname. Dressed in vibrant shades of purple and pink, the house looks like a supersized dollhouse. Rumors circulated for years that it was built for Barbie maker Ruth Handler.

Right next door is the antidote to the house’s saccharine display: an adjoining property painted completely black. Angelenos call it the Batman House or the Marilyn Manson House. If the Barbie house Dr. Jekyll, then this is his Hyde.

Google Maps identifies the two houses as the Goth & Bubblegum Houses, and they’ve gone viral in recent years thanks to their stark contrast in style, seemingly representing two ends of multiple spectrums. Cool vs crazy. Quiet vs Loud. Minimalist vs maximalist.

Seemingly every passerby identified with one over the other.

“I love the Barbie house because it just goes for it. It’s flashy in a fun way,” said Tori Breen, a tourist from Iowa.

“I’m a bit more relaxed,” said her friend Anna Swansby. “I like the black.”

Together, the houses have created a strange new Instagram destination, even if – or perhaps because – their claim to fame is decidedly superficial. Cue tired joke from LA.

The two Santa Monica homes that have gone viral are accidentally connected.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Emerge tweet, TikTok and even make a cameo “Grand Theft Auto V,” the pair of properties became less known on the internet in 2015 after a Reddit post joked that the houses belonged to Barbie and Voldemort, according to know your meme. The jokes haven’t stopped since, with most of the memes using the houses to compare things to clashing phenomena.

So how are the two houses so inextricably linked? Accidentally.

In the 1990s, the duo were actually part of a trio called the Sherbet Homes, which got its name after a developer bought three adjoining properties along Pacific Coast Highway and painted them in pastel shades. The first was painted baby blue, the second seafoam green and yellow, and the third was spruced up with the pink and purple “Barbie” look that still exists today.

The paint jobs were a product of the time, reflecting the vibrant pastel hues seen in sitcoms such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Full House.”

The pastel-colored houses were all painted by a developer in the 1990s, but only the pink-purple house still looks the same.

The pastel-colored houses were all painted by a developer in the 1990s, but only the pink-purple house still looks the same.

(Gary Glass)

“It was never meant to be the Barbie house. It was just a nice 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 was sold to a new owner who removed the siding and painted it brown, returning the house to anonymity. It was sold again in 2015 and now has a standard white and blue exterior.

The seafoam green home changed hands in 2012 and the new owner installed the all-black look it has today — an early adopter of the bold, masculine aesthetic that is still fashionable.

So the pink house is the only one of the three that still has 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.”

The internet famous properties have caught the attention of a number of high profile buyers over the years. Mark Cuban stopped by for a tour of the Barbie house when it went on the market in 2015, according to Sotheby’s agent Victoria Risko, who ran the listing.

He succeeded, but it was eventually sold to a top sports agent who decided to keep the smashing exterior but remodel the living areas with stone floors and a roof terrace.

“I thought he was going to change the exterior, but he loves it,” said Berkshire Hathaway agent Gary Glass, who represented the buyer.

The black house was previously owned by the parents of music mogul Scooter Braun and has since been sold to an entertainment executive, records show.

A handful of misconceptions have surrounded the Barbie house since it was built. Some believe it belonged to Ruth Handler, who invented the Barbie doll in 1959 and was president of the Mattel Inc. toy company. While nice, the rumor is false. Records show she lived a few miles away on the beach in Malibu.

Another misconception is that the inside of the Barbie house matches the outside. Also false. Since its construction it has always had a neutral interior style with minor improvements over the years.

It is often confused with Barbie beach house, a retro film location in Venice Beach filled with shag rugs, polka dots and peace signs. That location can be booked for filming or events and assignments between $3,500 and $10,000 per day.

“It looks like something out of an ‘Austin Powers’ movie,” Spica said.

A retro living room with shaggy carpet and bright colours

The Santa Monica Barbie House is often confused with the Barbie Beach House above, a filming location in Venice Beach.

(William Moreno / Image Locations)

With the “Barbie” movie due to hit theaters in July, many thought the Barbie house would appear. While parts of the movie were filmed around Venice Beach and Santa Monica, Spica said the owners never heard from the film crew about taking up the house — though they’d probably be open to it.

Agents say that while the pink and black paint jobs have given the homes prominence, they have not affected the property’s value. The pink house sold for $5.4 million in 2015 and the black house traded for $6.45 million in 2021. Both sales were pretty standard for beachfront lots in Santa Monica.

“An unintended benefit, at least, is that the Barbie house is so cheerful you can see it coming. It’s like a signpost to help you get there,’ Risko said. “You can’t just pull over PCH, so if you accidentally drive past it, it’s a disaster.”

In the same way that passers-by identify with the pink house or the black house, the aesthetics of the houses also seem to suit their respective owners. Spica said that the owner of the black house would not have bought the pink house and vice versa.

“If you describe the two owners, the personality of one is more black and the other is more pink,” he said. “It’s like the joke where the dog matches the owner.”