Neverland Valley Ranch (formerly the Sycamore Valley Ranch) is a developed property in Santa Barbara County, California, located at 5225 Figueroa Mountain Road, Los Olivos, California 93441, most famous for being the home of American entertainer Michael Jackson from 1988 to 2005. Jackson named the property after Neverland, the fantasy island in the story of Peter Pan, a boy who never grows up. The ranch is located about five miles (8 km) north of unincorporated Los Olivos, and about eight miles (13 km) north of the town of Santa Ynez.
Today the ranch is owned by the Estate of Michael Jackson, with Colony Capital LLC maintaining a 12.5% undivided stake in the property.
The Chamberlin Ranch is to the west, and the rugged La Laguna Ranch, where the Zaca Fire began, is to the north. The Santa Barbara County Assessor's office says the ranch is approximately 3,000 acres (1214 hectares).
Residence of Michael Jackson
Jackson purchased the property from golf course entrepreneur William Bone in 1988 for a sum variously reported to be 16.5 to 30 million US dollars. It was Jackson's home as well as his private amusement park and it contained a floral clock, numerous statues of children, and a petting zoo. The amusement park included two railroads: one 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge named "Neverland Valley Railroad" with a steam locomotive named "Katherine" after his mother (Crown 4-4-0 (2B); built 1973 with two coaches), and the other a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge with a locomotive named "C.P. Huntington" made by Chance Rides. There were also a Ferris wheel, Carousel, Zipper,Octopus, Pirate Ship, Wave Swinger, Super Slide, roller coaster, bumper cars, and an amusement arcade. Michael Jackson was also an avid art collector.
Neverland Ranch was searched extensively by police officers in connection with the People v. Jackson trial after he was charged with multiple counts of molesting a minor in 2003. Jackson stated in that year that he would not return to the property, saying that he no longer considered the ranch a home, feeling the 70 police officers had "violated" it in their searches. In 2006, the facilities were closed and most of the staff was dismissed, with a spokesperson stating that this was the reflection of the fact that Jackson no longer lived there.
Reports of foreclosure proceedings alleged to have commenced against Neverland Ranch on October 22, 2007 were published, however a spokesperson for Jackson said that the loan was merely being refinanced and Jackson (later his Estate) remained the majority stake holder, with a legal retention of 87.5% of the ranch.
On February 25, 2008, Jackson received word from Financial Title Company, the trustee, that unless he paid off $24,525,906.61 by March 19, a public auction would go forward of the land, buildings, and other items such as the rides, trains, and art. On March 13, 2008, Jackson's lawyer L. Londell McMillan announced that a private agreement had been reached with the private investment group, Fortress Investment, to save Jackson's ownership of the ranch. Before the agreement, Jackson owed three months' arrears on the property. McMillan did not reveal the details of the deal.
On May 12, 2008, a foreclosure auction for the ranch was canceled after an investment company, Colony Capital LLC, purchased the loan, which was in default. In a press release, Jackson stated, "I am pleased with recent developments involving Neverland Ranch and I am in discussions with Colony and Tom Barrack with regard to the Ranch and other matters that would allow me to focus on the future."
On November 10, 2008, Jackson transferred the title to Sycamore Valley Ranch Company, LLC, and neighbors reported immediate activity on the property, including the amusement rides being trucked along the highway. Jackson still owned an unknown stake in the property, since Sycamore Valley Ranch was a joint venture between Jackson (represented by McMillan) and an affiliate of Colony Capital LLC (an investment company run by billionaire Tom Barrack) The Santa Barbara County Assessor's Office stated Jackson sold an unknown proportion of his property rights for $35 million.
Kyle Forsyth, Colony's project manager, describes the estate's Tudor-style buildings and savannah-like grasslands as "English country manor meets Kenya." Eventually, Colony hopes to sell the ranch, located in Santa Barbara County, in its entirety. Subdividing it, says Mr. Forsyth, "would destroy it."
Since 2009, the Neverland Ranch rides Balloon Samba, Jeeps, Wave Swinger and Dinos have been featured attractions at the California State Fair.
Death of Michael Jackson
Fans visiting the makeshift memorial set up outside the Neverland Ranch entrance shortly after Jackson's death.
Following Jackson's death, press reports during June 28–29, 2009, claimed that his family intended to bury him at the Neverland Ranch, eventually turning it into a place of pilgrimage for his fans, similar to how Graceland has become a destination for fans of Elvis Presley. However, the singer's father Joseph Jackson later denied the reports. Construction equipment and gardeners entered the grounds on July 1, prompting speculation that preparations were being made for something related to Jackson's death, but local officials stated that a burial there would be only allowed if the owners of the ranch would go through a permitting process with county and state government before establishing a cemetery at the site. Jackson's 2002 will gives his entire estate to a family trust.
The ranch was the setting for two media appearances on July 2, 2009. Jermaine Jackson took The Today Show's Matt Lauer on a tour of the main house, and he was interviewed on the grounds of the house by Larry King for his show.
In July 2010, California Assemblyman Mike Davis floated the idea of California acquiring the property and running it as a state park. This idea has been introduced before, as such a park could attract thousands of Jackson fans from around the world, bringing in revenue for the state and local area. However, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had called for the closure of many state parks due to lack of funding, and local residents oppose the idea because of the traffic congestion and other problems that a major tourist attraction would bring to this rural area.
In October 2010, reports came out that Michael Jackson's children intended to buy the property.
In January 2013, singer Lady Gaga announced her willingness to help Jackson's children in keeping the ranch by investing in the property.
Following the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, the neglected Neverland Ranch fell into disrepair. Saddened by a return trip to her childhood home in 2010, Jackson's daughter, Paris, resolved to acquire and restore the property in early 2013. The amusement rides were replaced with a meditative zen garden, and a section decorated with Peter Pan, Michael Jackson's favorite fictional hero. The Jackson children intended the garden to be used for the enjoyment of sick children.