That didn’t take long.
…Pickup trucks and a large dump truck towing a flatbed were seen entering the 2,500-acre Neverland Ranch, a major piece of the singer’s debt-strapped financial empire. It was not clear who had requested the fleet or for what purpose.
I just spent some time trying to get a handle on the ranch itself. I’ve heard the name many times, natch — mentioned mainly as an exhibit of Jackson’s odd and free-spending ways — but never quite got the whole scene. Now I get it.
One can start with these Neverland photos from our Jackson profile.
Turns out the ranch is about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, up through Burbank, Oxnard, and Santa Barbara, and near the town of Solvang. (Google Maps shows the ranch here.)
Solvang is its own sort of Neverland, an “authentic” Danish village that has been on tourist maps for years. (Moreso since the area was featured in the film Sideways. The Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti characters stayed in the kitschy windmill Days Inn in nearby Buellton, 10 short miles from Neverland.)
Here’s a nifty Neverland map, posted by a video tech who worked a charity event there.
It’s bigger than I thought. The map lists cages for elephants, giraffes, orangutans, tigers, bears, and a crocodile (yikes!) along with bumper cars, a ferris wheel, swings, a “sea dragon” (?), etc. (No Bubbles, though.) As for the layout, it’s zoo animals to the north, rides in the middle, private residence to the south.
Jackson apparently lived in the middle of the amusement park when he was in residence; there wasn’t a separate mansion elsewhere, as I had assumed.
Mr. Jackson spent more than 15 years living at the ranch. He wrote songs for 1991’s “Dangerous” album while sitting in a treehouse overlooking the estate’s four-acre pond. His three children were home-schooled on the third floor of the main house.
As for the free-spending ways:
[Jackson] created a Neverland Valley Fire Department, with a small fleet of working engines and full-time firefighters who were occasionally dispatched to battle brushfires on neighboring properties.
At its peak, Neverland boasted a staff of 150, and cost $10 million a year to maintain, according to people familiar with the matter.
When he wasn’t in residence, Jackson let schoolkids and other visitors have the run of the place.
Oh, and Liz Taylor married Larry Fortensky there in 1991.
Now we find out that Neverland wasn’t even really Jackson’s any more. After much wrangling over debt in years past, he handed it over last November to Sycamore Valley Ranch LLC, a company owned partly by him but mainly by the powerful property company Colony Capital.
Which maybe explains the dump truck.
[ July 1 update: Unknown dump truck men are
trashing cleaning up Neverland. “Unconfirmed reports suggest Jackson’s body may be placed in a glass coffin and be transported from Los Angeles to Neverland in a ‘fairytale carriage.'” ]
[ Still later July 1 update: The Jackson family says there will be no viewing at Neverland after all. ]