An Inside Look at the Halloween Decoration Wars Between L.A. Homes
These Santa Monica homes collectively draw 15,000 visitors on Halloween.
For 19 years, Kenneth Carlson, a filmmaker and documentarian, and his wife, Katrina Carlson, a singer-songwriter, have been decking out their home to create their own haunted house, turning a Santa Monica neighborhood on 16th Street into an attraction for thousands.
It’s an elaborate display that attracts celebs like Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but for the Carlsons the priority is to impress another demographic. “It’s all about the kids,” says Kenneth, adding that families come from far and wide to see their creation. “Sometimes in the neighborhood they complain that inner-city kids come, but that’s why I do it — for all the kids to see, not just the people in this neighborhood. We embrace everybody.”
The Carlsons build their haunted house incrementally throughout October, but they take it all down in just one day. “Kids walk by and go, ‘Did this really happen?’” raves Ken.
Sometimes the boat — yes, a full-on ship — remains for a few days. For Carlson, this is all a childhood dream gone wild. “My father was a minister so I was allowed to be evil one time of the year,” he says. “Now I’ve taken it to the next level.”
Each year, the couple has two big pods delivered from storage to their house for the annual event and do all the decorating themselves with the help of a few friends. “It’s really my husband’s thing — those of us around him just try to help out,” laughs Katina, admitting it doesn’t take a lot of coaxing to get her involved. “My whole thing was my dad wouldn’t let us trick or treat. It crushed me. So now we’re making up for lost time.”
With 15,000 expected visitors, the city sends 27 police units to block the area off from 15th to 17th and Carlisle to San Vicente. “The city of Santa Monica very much supports this,” says Katrina. They also host a private party in their backyard while visitors of the haunted house form a line that goes for hours. “We have five professional security guards on the night so everything stays orderly,” she says. “It’s a mob scene.”
Diagonally across the street is the family of Robert Morton, who was producer and co-executive producer of Late Night With David Letterman, and has been going all out for Halloween for the past 15 years — the perimeter of their home is guarded by ghouls suspended in mid-air and pumpkin-hugging skeletons. If there is competition between the neighbors, Carlson won’t cop to it. “It’s all a sense of community,” he says. “The more they do the happier I am. The more the merrier!”
A few houses down from the Mortons, is a new addition to the pack. Orthopedic surgeon Tim Davis and his family are making their Halloween debut this fall, but their decorating plan is a full year in the making. “Last year, after Halloween we went down to Aahs immediately, to get all the sales, and we bought everything even before the house was built,” says Davis. “My wife thought I was crazy, like, ‘The house isn’t even finished, what are you doing?’”
Davis’ 6-year-old son gets most of the credit for the elaborate setup. “He’s been dreaming about this for about a year,” says Davis. The Davis home can be identified by the vintage red Chevrolet out front, aptly piloted by a group of skeletons. Beetlejuice stands guard in the window, while a maniacal clown hangs from their tree. On the porch witches cackle as smoke slowly encases them. “The werewolf gets the most votes so far,” laughs Davis as the animatronic animal growls and scares yet another passerby.
There may be chaos involved, but Davis and his family can’t wait for Oct. 31. “On the day it’s like Mardi Gras. You can’t walk across the street because there is so much flow in the middle of it,” he says. “We’ve been told we need about 5,000 pieces of candy to give one piece to every person that comes by.”
And for the most part, the community rallies behind the cause. “It’s amazing,” says Lily, a neighbor from just a few blocks away. “The whole community is just alive with people.” And a few undead.