While Michael Jackson's memorials will not be taking place at his Neverland Valley Ranch as had been originally announced, the world's attention has been focused on the pop singer's renowned compound in Los Olivos, California, all week.
In 1988, at the age of 29, Jackson purchased over 2,500 acres of property for about $17 million from a golf course magnate and set about the task of turning it into a fortress of magical, spare-no-expense proportions. To that fanciful end, he ordered the construction of an amusement park with a roller coaster and Ferris wheel, a railroad, a movie theater, stables, an arcade and a zoo, complete with elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees, crocodiles, snakes and a bear. In total, there are 22 buildings on the land, including a mansion, guesthouses and several apartments. The upkeep was reported to be as high as $5 million per year.
The name for the ranch, which is completely obscured from roadside view and is located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, was lifted from the name of the Peter Pan wonderland where children never age.
While closed to the public, Neverland nonetheless played host to scores of schoolchildren on Jackson's dime. Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky were married there in 1991. In 1993, MTV's John Norris interviewed Jackson in the compound for a fan-contributed music video contest.
"Neverland is huge," Norris wrote the day after Jackson's death. "It's a ways to get to — you have to go up this long winding road through the mountains. It's probably a 15-minute drive up from the main road. ... There are probably half a dozen rides [in the amusement park]. There was one of those big spider-looking things, there was a huge slide and definitely a Ferris wheel. When you're on the grounds of Neverland, you really get the feeling that he thought of himself as a child."
It was after a visit from one of those schoolchildren in 2003 that Jackson ended up embroiled in scandal, when a 13-year-old cancer patient alleged that the singer molested him at the estate. After a highly public trial in 2005, Jackson was acquitted on all charges; fans flocked to Neverland to celebrate.
Following the ordeal, Jackson went to live in Bahrain, on the Persian Gulf. In 2006, Californian authorities ordered the closure of Neverland and fined Jackson following his failure to pay staff and renew insurance policies. The singer eventually returned to the United States, but never again lived at the estate. By last year, Jackson's financial situation had deteriorated to the point where Neverland was set to be sold as a result of missed payments on a $24.5 million loan. A last-minute deal with a real estate investment firm prevented the compound from being auctioned off. The company, Colony Capital L.L.C., placed the title for the property into a joint venture with Mr. Jackson. The amusement park rides, railroad and zoo were all been removed after Jackson's departure.
"[It's] premature to talk about the future of the property," a spokesman for Colony told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Reports earlier this week had stated that a public memorial would be held on Friday for the King of Pop at his former residence, with a private memorial taking place two days later.
There were a number of concerns, however, from various California officials about logistics, including dealing with the number of cars on the small, winding roads surrounding the compound. The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday (July 1) that the family ran into trouble obtaining a permit to bury Jackson on private grounds, despite Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly volunteering to cut through any bureaucratic clutter that could slow down the process.
But officials in Santa Barbara County were not able to process the request in more timely fashion.
"It's nobody's fault. Everybody in Santa Barbara feels bad about it," a Times source said.
Whatever the ultimate fate of the property may be, it remains inextricably associated with Michael Jackson.
For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit "Michael Jackson Remembered."
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