COTE DE TEXAS: A Malibu House

A Malibu House

Malibu is such an expensive town.  Multi million dollar homes hug a beach that, in certain areas, is so eroded there is barely any sand left.   Other homes are located up in the hills on the other side of the highway with expansive views of the air-conditioning Pacific Ocean.  What I love about the real estate advertisements in pricey California is the gorgeous photos that are taken of the houses.  Prettier than even the most expensive of magazines, looking at these houses for sale is exhilarating, especially when you pretend that you can actually afford to buy one of these estates. 
I remember when I was young and full of anxiety, I had a doctor that gave me some sage advice.  It sounded so ridiculous at the time, and certainly unprofessional, but it has proven strangely effective.  During one particular bad bout of nerves he told me to pretend I had won the lottery and imagine what I would do with the winnings.
Looking at these houses can be great medicine when you want to forget for a hour or two what is bothering you.  It’s like saying you can eat cake because you need to gain weight. 


This house is for sale at 25 million.  It’s located right on the beach, high above the sand.  It must take great effort to make it down to the water, but the views are incredible.  At first I thought this was just another beach house, beautiful for sure, but later, an in depth look proved to be enlightening.

Named The Rock, it was built in 2008 by Michael Lee, an ex Texan who is now well known for his Malibu designs.  The house isn’t large.  With just 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, it has a living room/kitchen/dining combo – and two terraces.  There is no garage, and strangely, no pool, not even a hot tub!   For 25 million, shouldn’t you at least get a hot tub?   Boy, I would make a terrible real estate agent!!!

Doing some research, I soon found this house had quite a history.  It was originally built decades before.  In 1960, aging Hollywood star Mary Astor bought the house which was then called Elephant Rock for this rock on the beach:


It truly DOES look like an elephant! 


Here Mary Astor is shown giving an interview in her Malibu home.  It looks like there is a stone floor, along with lots of bookcases, which I love.  And I love how dressed up she is, yet wearing thongs!  This small glimpse of her house looks lovely – a pretty desk, a great light, and even a bonsai tree.


In this view, you can see the window shades – is that a tree outside, or is it just a drawing on the shades?


Though it was called Elephant Rock, here, on this stationary, it looks like Astor named her house Stella Maris.  What is sad is she asks here if she should put her name on the waiting list for the Motion Pictures Country House, which was a retirement home for actors.  She did move there to a private cottage, about ten years later – and stayed until the last two years of her life which were spent in the Motion Pictures Country Hospital. 

After Astor, the Malibu house was bought by comedian Buddy Hackett, who named it “Love Shack” – for all the Rat Pack parties he gave.   Hackett actually died in the garage of the Malibu house in 2003 when he was 78.  Michael Lee bought it from his estate for between 4 and 5 million and renamed it The Elephant House.


This is the only picture I could find of the Malibu house before Michael Lee rebuilt it.  It is pink with an ivy clad stone fireplace and looks quite charming.   In sales brochures, the house was described as contemporary with walls of glass and concrete floors.  That sounds nothing like this pink house, or pictures of the house when Mary Astor lived there. 

After Michael Lee bought the house, he spent 4 years building it.  Here is an aerial view of the house under construction:


I wonder if he left the footprint of the house and used that as the floorplan.  Here you can see how they were digging the amphitheater and swimming pool.  Amazingly, a few years later – this was all removed and a flat lawn is there now!

The house is located on Matador Beach and has views of Catalina and the Channel Islands.  It has 266 feet of beachfront. 

After it was completed, the house was first put on the market for $14,950, then it was for sale for $16,950.  It was shown in Architectural Digest where Michael Lee said he built the house with architectural elements imported from Spain, South America and France. 


Today, the house is known simply as The Rock House.  The landscaping is by Maureen Barnes.  


A view of the house from the lawn, halfway between the beach and the house.  At the very left is the tile roofed master suite (one of two in the house).  In the middle is the front door, and on the right is the family room/kitchen/dining room.


Here is a view of the beach, looking up at the house. To judge the scale – look at the people on the beach, next to the elephant rock – see how tiny they look!


A view at dusk – looking north up the shore.  Halfway down to the beach is the large lawn, seen here.


An aerial view of the house with the lawn halfway to down to the beach.   You enter the house through the stone walkway at the driveway, that winds around the side.   Above the main floor is a second story terrace that overlooks the beach.

The tiled roof area is one of the master suites.  I do wonder if this was originally the garage?  It has that shape.


A  view of the house from the beach.  The stairs lead up to the grassy area and further up to the house.  There are two terraces – one of the first floor and a large one on the second floor. 


A closer view of the terraces on the first and second floors.  Notice the grass lawn with the landscaping along the back.  When the house was first built, this was a pool, with an 200 seat amphitheater.  This has all been removed, as you can see here.


BEFORE:  An aerial view of the house with the horseshoe shaped pool, with the deck, and the seating around it.


BEFORE:  The seats surrounding the pool (with its loose pebble bottom).  There is a wood deck/stage in the middle.


BEFORE:  Another view of the horseshoe shaped pool.  Why was it removed?????  I am dying to know!!!!


BEFORE:  A picture of the horseshoe shaped pool with the wooden stage/deck.


BEFORE:  A view of the pool from the house.


TODAY:  The view of the lawn, where the pool and deck once were.


An earlier view of the gates to the house.


The front door, in the middle of the front walkway that hugs the house.


Past the front door, and stone flower beds, the walkway leads to a terrace at the side of the house.  A newly installed pergola provides shade above the bench.

BEFORE:  From the real estate brochure 4 years ago, you can see how the landscape was just put in.  And there is no pergola yet.


TODAY.  Looking back to the front door, you can see the bench under the pergola.


The terrace at the side of the house – under another new pergola.  THAT VIEW!!!!


A bigger view of the terrace.  Above is the 2nd story terrace.


The same view – at dusk.  So gorgeous with the landscaping and the doors open!

BEFORE:  There were different chairs on the terrace. I like the wicker ones now much better.  But, the stone table looks the same. 

A lot of the furniture seems the same – from the first real estate sale and today’s new brochure.  Did the owners sell the house furnished?


Past the dining table on the terrace, against the cliff, is this large sitting area with a firepit for cold nights.


TODAY:  View of the Malibu coastline.


BEFORE:  Different chairs – but the same firepit.


TODAY:  Under the new pergola – a French bakers table.


BEFORE:  The same view – without the pergola.  The new owners must have installed the two iron pergolas for much needed shade.  Above, you can see the second story terrace’s railings.


Let’s go inside. Through the iron double doors is a foyer with a winding staircase.    Through the area is the kitchen and dining room, then the family room.   


The foyer is filled with antiques, English and French.  Notice the rustic door that probably leads to the guest bath.


BEFORE:  The foyer – then.   Here you can see the former owners collected much modern art.  Notice the Calder mobile, today there is an antique lantern there.  The stone table and planter looks the same as is there today.  And here – through the door is one of the master bedrooms.  But originally, this was a dining room.

Notice the round window on the upper level.


BEFORE:  Looking at the opposite direction.   Which do you prefer, the Calder mobile or the antique lantern?


TODAY:   In the main room, there is a bit of a strange layout – the  dining room and kitchen are right off the foyer.  Here you can see the dining table by the foyer. 


BEFORE:  The same exact view – instead of the dining table, there is an antique settee.  Through the doorway are two French doors, which look to have been removed today.  I wonder why?  I really liked them!



TODAY:   The dining area with rustic table and leather chairs.  The area is so crowded that the table is very narrow with a bench instead of chairs on the opposite side.


TODAY:  The dining area at dusk, with one row of chairs – and a stone bench.


Across from the dining area is the open kitchen with stone wall and large island.  Michael Lee added the stone wall and said he did it so that it would appear that the kitchen was carved out of the cliff behind the house. 


The kitchen – with a mirror along the backsplash which reflects the ocean for the chef.  Notice the tiny brass light fixtures and the wood ceiling and beams.


BEFORE:   The kitchen as it was then, pretty much the same except for the accessories, pots, pans, and vases.  The bar stools remained from the former owner.


TODAY:  Past the dining area and kitchen is the family area.  The two large wing chairs are in front of the fireplace. 


TODAY:  Past the fireplace and wing chairs is the family room with a sectional that fits under the window corner.  The side terrace is off the family room.  I have to say the furniture doesn’t look too comfy?


TODAY:  A view of the family room at dusk with the two wing chairs that are between the dining area and the family room.


TODAY:  close up of the sectional with piles of pillows, in the corner of the windows.  Notice the two new pergolas cover this corner – perhaps they were added to cool the family room, as opposed to the terraces?  Instead of a coffee table, there is a large antique chest.


BEFORE:  The corner area is somewhat similar – the same sectional and pillows, but the coffee table is different.  Also, the former owners had lots of books, the new ones have accessories in the shelves instead.


BEFORE:  Here, the dining room table is located between the fireplace and the terrace.  Beautiful antique bench and chairs, with a larger, wider, rustic table.  Here you can see the books in the shelves, instead of accessories.    There is an antique chandelier over the table. 
Of course today – the dining room is by the foyer.  At one time, it was across from the foyer where the master suite is now.


BEFORE:  For Architectural Digest:  The view of the family room with chairs by the fireplace.  At the dining table there are different chairs for the magazine photoshoot. 


BEFORE:  The fireplace with a different layout.  There is a sofa here. 


TODAY:  Across from the foyer is one of the two master suites.  The ceiling is painted a soft aqua.  Where the door is – there are steps that lead up the room.  This is the part of the house with the tiled roof that I wonder if one day was a garage?


TODAY:  Against one wall are antique armoire doors.  Through the other opening is the bathroom.  Today the room is set up as a sitting room instead of a bedroom.


BEFORE:   Here the room is set up as one of the two master suites.


BEFORE:  For Architectural Digest, the room was used as a dining room – which makes sense.  The way the dining table is used today – only a skinny table can be placed in the space because it is not wide.  Here, with two chandeliers – a large table is set.  Across the foyer is the kitchen, then the family room.


In this suite, two sinks look out the shuttered windows.


TODAY:  Upstairs is the second master suite.  It adjoins the second terrace.  There is a fireplace in this room and a canopy bed.  The floors are oak here, not stone.


BEFORE:  The room as decorated then with brown rugs and striped dust cover, with many textures, and a gallery wall of art work.


BEFORE:  Another styling:  different bedding, shades, and instead of a gallery wall, there is just one large piece of art.  The rug is the same.  The light fixture is different today.



TODAY:  The bathroom upstairs with a moral on the walls.


Through the shower is a door to the terrace.


TODAY:  The terrace overlooks the ocean.  Gorgeous!


BEFORE:  The same terrace, with just a bit different furniture.


TODAY:  The house overlooking the lawn where the swimming pool once was – and the Pacific.


And at night.  So beautiful!

From Mary Astor, to Buddy Hackett, to two new owners, to you!!?!!

A Few Announcements:


If you are out and about, please visit MAI this week.   My cousins are consigning a household of furniture at MAI in the Consignment shop at 8735 Katy Freeway. 

For information - call MAI at 713.827.8087 and 713.465.6405.
  OPEN:  10 - 6 Monday - Saturday, 1 - 5 Sunday
AND, finally:


At Olivine in the Rice Village – there will be a book party this Saturday for “Pippi The Shop Dog.”


  The party will be on Saturday, December 5th from 4-6 pm.
2405 Rice Blvd.
Houston, Texas

(713) 622-7776
COME, it will be fun!!!!


  1. Joni,
    Thanks for my mini-vacation this morning! The house is wonderful and I feel it must have been such a refuge for the owners through
    the years. I, too wonder why the pool was removed. I can see an infinity edge just begging to be built!

  2. That could not be more gorgeous -wow! Real estate has always been a hobby of mine - looking at houses (expensive and inexpensive) -how would I change it -how would I decorate it -etc. We go to open houses every sunday just for fun! haha

  3. Ahhh Joni, from living in San Diego 13 years it is the views along the coast I miss so much (and my friends in Southern Cal)

    The Arts by Karena
    Books for the Holidays!

  4. I'm ready to move in. What a treat!

  5. Maybe they had to remove the pool due to erosion on the cliff?

  6. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s. Malibu used to be a place where people went to relax. We often went to a friend's father's former bachelor pad to swim. It was all drift wood, rattan furniture and surfing gear. I always pay homage to it in some way in my own homes. I agree that it might very well be erosion which made them remove the pool. People are so disconnected from the natural world now. It is on a cliff on the ocean with rough surf and wind not the best place to build a Roman villa no matter how lovely.

  7. Lots of beautiful houses on the cliffs in Malibu will be concerned about erosion this winter with the El Nino expected. The expensive houses Joni mentions are on Broad Beach. The erosion there has been so bad that the wealthy homeowners are trying to get rights to purchase and truck in sand from other beaches to regrow their beach. The expense will be high and the beach gone in the first, maybe second, storm with high surf.
    Love the beaches and the sound of surf. In my wishful dreams there would have to be a beach cabin and a house higher on the hill.
    Ah...California Dreamin

  8. Wow! So beautiful. Those views are amazing. I think in general I prefer the 'before' pictures. As beautiful as it is, I wouldn't want to be perched on a cliff above the ocean. Notice how raw the cliff looks behind it. I would be afraid of landslides, especially with an El Nino predicted. I do love to look at dreamy real estate, too!

  9. It is so fun to see the houses you research. I could never afford the staff to maintain a multi million dollar beach "pad'. As I read, I had a mental list of the maintenance chores involved in keeping a house on the water spit spot. The new arbor better get a coat of paint on it, quick! Did I read correctly that you walk through the shower itself to get to the terrace? Also, did you notice the wing chair made out of blue jeans? Made me wonder if perhaps Ralph Lauren lived there? It is a lovely house. I enjoyed the read. Margaret

  10. This house is incredible. My guess the pool was removed due to erosion problems as well. What a pity to replace it with grass that has no purpose. As usual you researched the heck out of this house and afforded us it's fabulous history!

  11. Love love love this post!

    What an interesting history!

    I think my favorite incarnation, from what I can see of it, is when it was a simple beach house when Mary Astor lived there! These "villas" in Malibu turn me off. I like beach houses that are "beach houses"; not Roman Villas! Just me!


  12. A stunning home, but what a floorplan challenge. It's difficult enough having to figure out how to squeeze in dining table, fireplace grouping, etc. in such a tight space -- but did you notice how every seating area has one's back to the view? Stretch out anywhere on the sectional, and the ocean is always behind your head. The fireplace seating and kitchen island stools also face inward, not outward of the house. The only place one can lie back and contemplate the view is from the bed in the master bedroom. Pity, because the ocean views are the selling point of the home.

  13. Thank you for taking us through this incredible home. Having moved to Santa Barbara from Connecticut six years ago, I am fascinated by the different architecture here. We owned a darling stone and stucco cottage and moved into a midcentury modern home with lots of glass opening to the outdoors. Such a new and different way of living! I loved hearing about the history of the Rock House. Your posts are always so interesting and the photos are all the before and afters.

  14. Drool. I love the fact that the house is relatively small and not something huge and out of place. I would never leave the master bedroom with the view out to the water, what a great life. The bedrooms remind me of the post that you did a long time ago on Diandra Douglas' house in Santa Barbara. How lucky these people are, I can never work out why anyone could bring themselves to sell and move away from a house like this.

  15. Pool removed? My guess is that it was just too far away from the house and too difficult to maintain. Imagine swimming all day or trying to party way down there. The staircase back up the hill is pretty steep and would be exhausting to climb. Also, you can't see the pool area from the house and it was accessible from the beach so it would have been a huge insurance liability. Over the last 10 years or so, lots of people in Southern California have filled in pools out of guilt over the drought. (Although lawn actually uses more water than the same area occupied by a pool.) Bet they just punched holes in the bottom of the pool and filled it in with dirt. The shell is probably still waiting in case anyone ever wants to resurrect it.

    So, Joni, it's ready for you when you win the Lottery!

  16. Holy cow ...what a view. Yes...I want that house. Interesting about where the pool went?

  17. Wrap it up, I'll take it! So peaceful! I loved your doctor's comment...I have used that for years..."If money were no object, what is the best choice?" I think removing certain variables help you isolate the best choice or make the best decision. I love that you use it too!

  18. Wow Joni, you have featured a lot of houses in Malibu here and this is BY FAR my favorite! The stone, the view... just incredible! Love reading the history too!

    I actually like it without the pool! Maybe because they are literally so close to the beach they removed it? Or landslides were a problem? Either way, I kind of like it. It might be a little strange to be in a pool while looking at that gorgeous beach!

    Thanks for a (as always!) well researched and interesting post!


  19. Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot. Malibu Luxury Real Estate

  20. In the 1960's when we were children, we would spend Easter week next door at a cottage owned by a close friend of my parents, Mrs. Mary Ellen Dye. I recognized the beach because of Mary Astor whom we knew had a cottage next door, and the fact that the beach was so private and unique with caves. Quite dicey at high tide, though, when you wanted to walk around the rocks down the beach. The home where we stayed was Spanish style built in the 30's or 40's and looked right over the cliffs to that glorious private beach. The steep stairs to the beach were always needing repair and the rattlesnakes that fell off the cliff to the beach kept my father busy as he tried to ensure our safety. The wonderful sound of the waves always guaranteed a peaceful night after we had played hard swimming and surfing all day. I was sure that this small, charming home had been replaced with a mega-mansion by now and that it would be inaccessible. We were a simple family on a modest income and this incredible place was our home for one magical week each year as I grew up from Kindergarten age into high school. So many fond memories. Thank you for your article which helped me find out where it is now, after so much development and change has occurred in Malibu. I am thrilled that a state park is now close by so that we can explore the public beach again. I want to share it with my husband. We were a very fortunate family to have amazing access to such a beautiful place and it significantly impacted our lives! Thank you.

  21. What wonderful memories!! You are a very special person! To appreciate wha you do!!! Rare indeed!

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