Has the Church of Satan Gone to Hell?

Jack Boulware meditates on the devilish infighting over Anton LaVey's legacy

Since 1993 the home has been owned by hotelier Donald Werby, co-owner of Grosvenor Properties and a longtime LaVey friend from the old days of the Magic Circle. Werby paid $240,000 for the building as part of Anton LaVey's bankruptcy arrangement; the money was used to satis-fy a divorce settlement of nearly a half-million dollars.

In a city that cherishes its eccentric tradition, the structure may have value as a historical landmark. Rumors have circulated that shock-rocker and Church priest Marilyn Manson might purchase the building to preserve its legacy, but they remain unconfirmed. To Church members, the black house constitutes a shrine, the site of the world's first satanic wedding, a monument of ultimate religious rebellion.

On the local real estate market, though, the black house is just a dump.
The chain-link fence could be uprooted, the secret panels could be nailed shut, and the devil-themed wall murals could be painted over -- but according to court documents, the 1905 building has deteriorated beyond repair. It has no heat. All plumbing and electrical wiring is original and substandard. A representative from Grosvenor informs potential buyers the property is definitely for sale -- but renovation is out of the question. From Grosvenor's point of view, it's more cost-effective to demolish the black house and build something new.

But the black house is not history yet. On a recent Friday evening, Blanche Barton answers the door and ushers me into the former living room, long since converted into a satanic ritual chamber. Under a blood-red ceiling are pieces of antique furniture, including a grand piano, a church organ, a human coffin, and a rocking chair that supposedly belonged to Rasputin. The brick fireplace altar, upon which nude women once reclined, now displays a small photograph of Anton LaVey. It seems a shame that the occult artifacts and black walls and the strange energy that emanates from them could soon be leveled.

Blanche offers a sofa and sits in a chair, reportedly once owned by Ben Franklin. Blonde and in her mid-30s, wearing a small Baphomet pin on her white blouse, she appears as relaxed as any mother of an energetic 4-year-old can be.

She says she discovered The Satanic Bible as a teen-ager living in San Diego, and kept it in mind through college. She met Anton LaVey while vacationing in the Bay Area with her family in 1984, and, she says, has been with him and the Church ever since.

Court documents list Karla LaVey as a resident of the house, but Blanche says Karla recently moved out, and she would rather not discuss it any further.

On the efforts of Michael Aquino and Zeena Schreck to discredit LaVey, Blanche can only chuckle: "They have to let go! All you can really do is laugh at them. It's what the Doctor used to call 'satanic dismay.' "

In most families, a curse meant to kill a loved one would be cause for concern, but Blanche doesn't raise an eyebrow in response to Zeena's final ritual.

"He lived his life in broad strokes," she shrugs. If one lives a life of high drama, she suggests, one must be prepared to receive back what one has offered up.

As conversation shifts from philosophers to literature and film noir, Blanche's demeanor is pleasant, but it includes a confidence that hearkens back to the carnival midway. No matter how long it's been since LaVey died, or what happens to the black house, Blanche Barton says, the Church of Satan will always be around.

She has, after all, learned from the best. Perhaps she does deserve to be his successor.

On the way out the door, Xerxes the toddler, who is playing on the steps with a Dr. Seuss-character hand puppet, looks up and exclaims cheerfully, "My mom and I have a humongous house.

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