With the new HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” bringing new, bone-chilling stories to light, I felt the need to save a piece of my childhood by leaving Neverland behind myself.
And that piece is the actual Neverland Rach, the first celebrity home I have any recollection of — and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one here. I distinctly remember when news first came out about this incredible property Michael Jackson had bought, a ranch that went on for miles and that he planned on turning into this magical realm filled with laughter and joy.
This place unlike any other, with carousels, and Ferris wheels, and elephants and tigers and giraffes, with its own railroad and firehouse. It wasn’t long until rising scandals dispersed the magic — as we will soon learn, not only for us, but for Michael as well.
But as I looked at the ranch itself — and learned more about its past before it became Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch — I realized that there’s so much more to this incredible estate than the glory (and infamy) brought by its former celebrity owner.
And since the property just came back to market — with a new $31 million price, fresh representation and a desire to re-write its story — it’s time we take a closer look at the property now known as the Sycamore Valley Ranch.
Originally known as the Zaca Laderas Ranch, the massive spread of land spanning across 2,700 acres was purchased by William Boone in 1977. A successful property developer, Boone was so enchanted with the property that he wanted to make it the perfect home for him and his family. He started by renaming the estate as the Sycamore Valley Ranch, a name the property has now reverted back to.
Drawing on his years of experience building excellent homes, Boone enlisted the help of architect Robert Altevers to design the main structures on the property, and the two of them spent more than two years coming up with the perfect plans and designs for the estate.
What had been an undeveloped stretch of cowboy country would soon be replaced by Bone’s dream world, complete with a 13,000-square-foot main house and multiple outbuildings, spectacular gardens and a four-acre lake with a five-foot waterfall and a stone bridge.
“I had a desire to express everything I had learned in 15 years of home building,” the developer said. Little did he know that the result of his years of experience would soon become one of the most well-known properties in the world.
Becoming Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch
Michael Jackson purchased the property from Boone in 1988 for $19.5 million and named it after Neverland, the imaginary land from the children’s story Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
He had an ambitious vision for the property and wanted to use it as a retreat from the outside world, a magical world of wonder.
During his time at Neverland, Michael Jackson added an odd mix of fanciful details. Mock Victorian architecture and amusement park rides turned the desert property into a utopian playland, complete with two railroads and a dream-like railroad station, a roller-coaster, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, bumper cars, and an unforgettable zoo with exotic animals (ranging from flamingos to orangutans, giraffes, and tigers to an actual elephant.)
In fact, the 5,000-pound Asian elephant (called Gypsy) was a gift to Jackson from actress Elizabeth Taylor. The elephant was Taylor’s way of showing appreciation to Jackson for allowing her wedding to take place at his Neverland ranch.
And Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding was not the sole major event to take place at the Neverland Ranch. The home was also where Oprah shot her famous live interview with Michael in 1993, and where Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley hosted children from all around the world in a massive event that took place in 1995.
Jackson often hosted groups of children at Neverland. The fanciful ranch became a haven for hundreds of seriously ill and underprivileged children. However, amidst the praise for Jackson and gratitude for his generosity, reports of sexual misconduct surfaced.
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, but the police failed to find any incriminatory evidence against the pop star.
Despite being acquitted of all charges, Jackson stated he would never return to Neverland again as he no longer considered the ranch home. In 2005, he dismissed most of the staff, dismantled the carousel and Ferris wheel, and never returned to Neverland.
Following Michael’s death in 2009, press reports came out stating the the family intends to bury him at the Neverland Ranch, eventually turning it into a place of pilgrimage for his fans — similar to how Graceland is now a mecca for Elvis Presley fans. Michael’s father, Joseph Jackson, later denied the reports.
From Neverland Ranch back to Sycamore Valley
After calling the property home for more than 15 years, Michael Jackson defaulted on a $24.5 million loan backed by the ranch in 2008. Despite his financial struggles, he didn’t want to part ways with his longtime home. Colony Capital bought the note in 2008 for $23 million and put the title into a joint venture it formed with the pop star.
The joint venture, now between Colony Capital and members of Jackson’s estate, brought the property to market in 2015. No longer branding it as Michael Jackson’s home, they reverted back to the estate’s original name, the Sycamore Valley Ranch, and focused more the real-life merits of the estate — beyond its much-too-public history.
And the truth is that the Sycamore Valley Ranch — sans the “Neverland” — is an incredible property by itself, unlike any other on the market. Located about 8 miles north of Los Olivos, California, the estate is a massive 2,700-acre property that borders the Los Padres National Forest.
There are 22 structures on the estate, with a Normandy-style main house which sits between the property’s two lakes and measures about 12,000 square feet, with six bedrooms plus an attached staff quarters.
There’s a four-bedroom guesthouse near the main home and a two-bedroom guesthouse a little farther away. There’s also a swimming pool with a cabana, a barbecue area, basketball court and a tennis court.
A 50-seat movie theater has a private viewing balcony, and a stage includes trap doors for magic shows.
However, what makes the Sycamore Valley Ranch special goes beyond the structures already built on the property. While Michael Jackson’s former home (and the rest of the structures he used for entertainment) may get all the attention, it’s important to remember that the ranch spans about 2,700 acres.
That’s more than enough space to double the already impressive number of structures on the property (currently 22 buildings are spread across the land) or to repurpose it entirely.
The estate boasts live oaks that are more than 100 years old, lakes, a mountain, and lush vegetation as it borders the Los Padres National Forest.
Leaving Neverland behind
Not much remains from the time Michael Jackson called it home. Except for the train station with its staple floral clock which spells “Neverland”, a few swans, and a llama. The amusement park rides are gone, as are the rest of the exotic animals.
And rightfully so. With the new HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” bringing new horrific stories to light, it’s time for this estate to find a story more worthy of its beauty.
The estate, now going by its old name of Sycamore Valley Ranch, has recently been brought back to market with a fresh listing price of $31 million. That’s a considerable discount from the property’s ambitious initial pricing of $100 million, but a fairly more reasonable ask.
Now represented by COMPASS Montecito agents Suzanne Perkins and Kyle Forsyth, the Sycamore Valley Ranch is ready to welcome new owners and to start a new chapter.
“The timing is right for new stewardship,” listing agent Kyle Forsyth said, and we couldn’t agree more. “The ranch is well maintained and the approximately 2,700 acres are a naturalist’s paradise.”
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