Michael Jackson Burial at Neverland Ranch?

June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson Singing at the 50th Anniversary Celebration for American Bandstand in 2002

Rumors are swirling that pop star Michael Jackson will be buried on Wednesday at Neverland, his now-dilapidated ranch near Santa Barbara, California. Jackson, who died last Thursday, has not lived at the 2,800-acre ranch since before his 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges. Although the ranch was once his private Shangri-la — complete with an amusement park and zoo — Jackson no longer considered the ranch a home after it was searched by 70 police officers after sexual misconduct allegations. Jackson felt the magic of the ranch had been “violated.” Located at 5225 Figueroa Mountain Road, Neverland Ranch is about five miles north of the small town of Los Olivos, and about eight miles north of Santa Ynez.

The Train Station at Neverland Ranch, Michael Jackson's Home Near Santa Barbara, Califorinia

As many as a million mourners are expected to travel to Los Angeles for Jackson’s funeral, making a memorial for him an even larger event than the death of Elvis Presley or the death of Princess Diana. Jackson’s family is reportedly considering a private burial, with a following public remembrance ceremony which would be televised globally later this week. While Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, denies that the pop icon will be buried at Neverland, at least two of the singer’s brothers have visited Neverland for several hours, accompanied by developer Thomas Barrack, who owns an estimated 50 percent interest in the property. Fans have been thronging to Neverland, leaving well wishes, flowers and other mementos. One high-ranking Los Angeles police officer said: “We are preparing for an event of historic proportions. We will be cooperating closely with the family once they have decided where to hold the funeral.”

Neverland Ranch, Abandoned and Dilapidated in February 2009

Neverland-area residents, many of whom own vineyards and who like a slow pace of life, aren’t pleased with the idea of turning Neverland into a permanent memorial to Jackson. They cite lack of a burial permit, environmental concerns and zoning laws as issues. For example, they say, traffic nightmares would ensure as tourists attempted to reach Neverland via the narrow, two-lane roads to the property. Nevertheless, turning Neverland into a new Graceland would generate millions in income for Michael Jackson’s estate. Elvis Presley’s estate continues to make millions of dollars annually from tourists visiting Presley’s Memphis, Tennessee estate. Jackson bought Neverland Ranch for $17 million in 1987; it’s assessed at $96 million, which is thought to be a conservative estimate of its actual value.

The Iconic Gate at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch Near Santa Barbara, California

The train tracks have been covered with dirt and the rusting rides and other amusement park trappings have been removed. They were due to be sold at auction earlier this year; however, Jackson changed his mind; the items are now in storage. The zoo is gone, and the ranch is decaying. The huge Alice in Wonderland-type clock in front of the house doesn’t tell time anymore, and some of its numbers are missing. Many items have sun damage.

Ferris Wheel at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

Foreclosure proceedings against Neverland began in October 2007. In February 2008, Jackson was told by the trustee, Financial Title Company, that he would have to repay $24.5 million by March 19, or a public auction of the buildings, land, amusement park rides and trains would go forward. Londell McMillan, Jackson’s lawyer, announced on March 13, 2008 that a private agreement had been reached with Fortress Investment to save Jackson’s ownership of the ranch. Details of that loan weren’t revealed. In May 2008, a foreclosure auction for Neverland was canceled after the Colony Capital LLC investment company and its billionaire owner, real estate magnate Thomas Barrack, bought the $24.5 million loan, which Jackson was still in default on. Barrack is listed as number 701 on Forbes’ 2009 list of the world’s billionaires.

Carousel Horse at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

On November 11, 2008, Michael Jackson transferred title of Neverland Ranch to the Sycamore Valley Ranch Company LLC, in which Jackson held an unknown stake. Sycamore was a joint venture between Jackson and a Colony Capital (Barrack) affiliate. According to the Santa Barbara County Assessor’s Office, Jackson sold an unknown portion of his property rights for $35 million. Neverland may be worth as much as $120 million. In April 2009, Jackson planned to auction off more than 2,000 personal items, including Neverland’s gates and the famous white glove worn when he taped the Billie Jean video. Jackson changed his mind, however, and the auction didn’t occur.

Ironically, now that Michael Jackson’s well-documented spending sprees (up to $6 million in one notable department store foray) have ceased, he may well be worth more in death than in life. In between the possible development of Neverland, his interest — along with Sony — in a Beatles’ catalog and the continued sale of Jackson merchandise, it’s likely that the “King of Pop” has left his children a fortune of at least a billion dollars.

Celebrities expected to attend the King of Pop’s funeral include Madonna, Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley, Brooke Shields, Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor and Justin Timberlake.

See the house that Michael Jackson rented near London, England, where he would have lived during the O2 concerts.

Photo credit: Lee Celano / AFP/Getty Images, Jonathan Haeber / Terrastories.com and SB John Wiley / Flickr

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