Many, many years after its famous owner, the King of Pop, stopped calling it home, the sprawling property once known as Neverland Ranch finally found a new resident. Billionaire Ron Burkle, a onetime associate of the late pop star and co-founder of the investment firm Yucaipa Companies, paid $22 million for the 2,700-acre property, the Wall Street Journal reports. That’s fairly close to the amount Michael Jackson spent on the ranch back in 1988, when he bought it for $19.5 million.
While the $22 million Burkle paid to buy the property is no pocket change, it’s still a far cry from the initial ask; the property was first listed in 2015 for an impressive $100 million (which made it one of the most expensive homes for sale in the U.S. at the time) and later saw some significant price cuts. See below for the full history of the Neverland Ranch, both before and after Michael Jackson called it home.
One of America’s most iconic celebrity homes
Well before I had any interest in real estate, Neverland Ranch was the very first celebrity home I have any memory of — and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Even today, 30 years later, I distinctly remember when news first came out about this incredible property Michael Jackson had bought, a ranch that stretched on for miles and that he planned on turning into this magical realm filled with laughter, joy and plenty of animals. This place unlike any other, with carousels, and Ferris wheels, and elephants and tigers and giraffes, which even had its own railroad and firehouse.
But it wasn’t long until rising scandals dispersed the magic (not just for us, as we will soon learn, but for Michael as well). As I looked into the ranch itself — and learned more about its past before it became Michael Jackson’s home — I realized that there’s so much more to this incredible estate than the glory (and infamy) brought by its former celebrity owner. So let’s take a closer look at the incredible property once known as Neverland Ranch, that now goes by the name Sycamore Valley Ranch.
Before it became Michael Jackson’s Neverland 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 the Sycamore Valley Ranch, a name the property has reverted back to in recent years, in an attempt to shake off the Michael Jackson connection.
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 Boone’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.
Jackson turns it into a fairytale land, a mix between a zoo and an amusement park
The King of Pop 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 singer’s famous 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.
Later on, during a far more grim period in its history, 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. But that never happened and Michael’s father, Joseph Jackson, later denied these 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. Nevertheless, L.A.-based investment firm 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.
With a mind-blowing asking price of $100 million, the estate once known as Neverland Ranch sat on the market for close to 5 years, with no takers. It was then last listed in 2019 for a $31 million, but not even a $69 million price cut could lure in a buyer, and was eventually taken off the market. It then sold in December 2020 to billionaire Ron Burkle (in an off-market deal) for a considerably lower price of $22 million.
The current estate, no longer being branded as Michael Jackson’s house, reverted back to its original name, the Sycamore Valley Ranch, and marketing for the property focused more on its merits — 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. Located about 8 miles north of Los Olivos, California at 5225 Figueroa Mountain Road (in Santa Barbara County, CA) 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 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.
Lead image: Sycamore Valley Ranch image credit – Jim Bartsch; Michael Jackson headshot – Constru-centro via Wikimedia Commons
Note: This article was updated December 24, 2020 to reflect the current state of the property. The original article was published on March 5, 2019, when the Sycamore Valley Ranch was re-listed for $31 million.
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