7 reasons why Michael Jackson’s Neverland should be a museum

Nearly eight years after Michael Jackson’s death, Neverland Valley Ranch – the magic kingdom of the King of Pop – still lies vacant. Jackson’s Estate and investment company Colony Capital, who own the ranch as a joint venture, are eager to sell it off, but Jackson’s fans disagree. In their view, Neverland should be preserved as a Michael Jackson museum. Here are seven reasons why they could be right.

Michael Jackson at Neverland
Michael Jackson at Neverland (photo: video still)

1.  Neverland will forever be Jackson’s home

Let’s start off with the obvious. Neverland Valley Ranch, the sprawling 2,700 acre estate in Los Olivos, Santa Barbara, will always be Michael Jackson’s domain. No matter who buys it, fans will continue to gather at the outer gates of the ranch, leaving their mementos, thoughts and prayers for the King of Pop.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. For nearly twenty years, Neverland was Jackson’s beloved home. “Neverland is me…you know? It represents the totality of who I am”, he said in his Private Home Movies in 2003. No wonder Jackson spent countless hours perfecting his magic kingdom, which included a main house with formal gardens, a guest house, an amusement park, a zoo, sports facilities, a dance studio, a movie theatre, and even a train station.

Although most of Jackson’s traces at Neverland have disappeared, the ranch still lives and breathes his presence. Neverland is where Jackson dreamed his dreams, raised his family, and lived his secluded life. Despite the fact that Jackson left the ranch in 2005 and agreed to sell the place,  Neverland sits and awaits his return.

Neverland Ranch outer gate
Neverland Ranch outer gates (photo: Annemarie Latour)

2.  Neverland still hasn’t sold

Neverland, which now goes by the name of Sycamore Valley Ranch, was put on the real estate market in May 2015 and still hasn’t sold. Estimated to be worth at least $27 million, the initial asking price was a whopping $100 million. No buyers applied, so the price was dropped to $67 million in March 2017. Still, no one has been willing to cough up the dough.

In the meantime, agents targeting the upper end of the real estate market come and go. Of course it could be a matter of time and patience, as Forbes magazine suggested in 2016. There are only so many billionaires interested in buying a remote ranch in California. But the question really is, if Neverland should be sold at all.

3.  Neverland sits vacant and is costing money

When Neverland was still in full operating order, the maintenance and exploitation of Jackson’s ranch was estimated to cost $3 million a year. Although the ranch is now unoccupied, with the amusement park gone and the zoo nearly empty, the upkeep of the property is costing Jackson’s Estate and Colony Capital some serious money.

Property tax, insurance, maintenance, security to prevent vandalism, and the occasional PR events to keep real estate agents and other parties in the loop: it all adds up. As long as Neverland sits vacant, the property loses value every day. Which makes you wonder why it hasn’t been turned into a money-making asset.

Neverland train station
Neverland train station (photo: video still from ‘Sycamore Valley Ranch, Los Olivos, California’)

4.  Neverland can help preserve Jackson’s legacy

Elvis has Graceland, Prince has Paisley Park, and Chaplin has Chaplin’s World. Former homes, especially estates, make great museums. Why should Neverland be an exception? It makes little sense leaving the property as it is, while Jackson’s Estate at the same time lacks a museum to preserve the King of Pop’s legacy.

It’s about time, too. Countless memorabilia that are part of Jackson’s life story have been sold off through auctions. From Neverland amusement rides to Jackson’s legendary outfits worn on stage and in his videos, and from personal drawings to private video footage: Jackson’s legacy has been up for grabs.

In the meantime, Jackson items that have not (yet?) been sold, are collecting dust in warehouses. The same is true for Jackson’s art, which was rediscovered in a Santa Monica Airport hangar in 2011. Jackson’s art mentor, Brett-Livingstone Strong, still dreams of exhibiting the drawings and paintings in a proper museum setting.

Michael Jackson memorabilia
Michael Jackson video outfit, currently up for sale at Julien’s Auctions (screenshot, May 2017)

5.  Neverland is big enough to receive large crowds

Despite the ranch’s remote location – a three-hour drive from Los Angeles – Neverland is the perfect venue for a museum or theme park. The estate has plenty of acres to receive and accommodate large numbers of visitors. In fact, that’s what Jackson bought the ranch for in the first place.

Unknown to many, Jackson regularly received busloads of underprivileged youth and terminally ill children. Groups were invited to visit the ranch and enjoy the rides, even when Jackson was away from home. The 50-seat movie theatre included two fully equipped bedrooms with large glass walls that allowed terminally ill children to be part of the fun.

In addition to having enough space, the ranch has a fairly good infrastructure. It has private roads, parking facilities, walking trails, and even two railroads. Jackson’s two steam trains – the smaller ‘C.P. Huntington’ and the bigger ‘Katherine’ – chugged and whistled their way around the grounds to transport Jackson’s guests.

Neverland's C.P. Huntington steam train
Neverland’s ‘C.P. Huntington’ steam train (photo: video still)

6.  Neverland can’t be recreated elsewhere

Of course there are objections from neighbours: turning Neverland into a Jackson museum would disrupt the small-town charm of Los Olivos. The infrastructure doesn’t support large numbers of tourists and any changes would ruin the town’s architectural character of wineries and tasting rooms.

This may be true, but rezoning Neverland from agricultural to commercial use has its advantages as well. Opening Neverland to the public would bring a steady cash-flow not just to Jackson’s Estate, but also to the region’s hotels, restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms and other visitor attractions.

Alternatively, Neverland could be sold off and recreated as a theme park elsewhere. This idea, however, can be compared to watching a Michael Jackson impersonator. Tributes are great, but they don’t even come close to the real thing.

Some have tried, though. In 2010, BWA architects designed a Michael Jackson theme park in Las Vegas. The project included a museum, casino, hotel, event centre, entertainment complex, TV studio and more. In addition, the architects planned on recreating parts of Neverland, such as its gilded gate, main house, formal gardens, lake and train station.

The project never materialized, which is something to be grateful for. Even though Jackson enjoyed spending time in Vegas, Neverland deserves better than a tacky copy in a gambler’s paradise. Its rolling hills, majestic trees and distant mountain ridges, bordering on the Los Padres National Forest, are what makes Neverland… well, simply Neverland.

Los Olivos
Los Olivos (photo: Annemarie Latour)

7.  Neverland is a dream worth keeping

Neverland is more than a home. Neverland is a vision, a dream, a legacy. Neverland is creativity, compassion and music history materialized. It’s a place of playfulness and magic, carrying the imprint of its creator. Neverland – second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning – is what Michael Jackson was all about.

Perhaps this is best explained by Jackson himself. “There are so many children in the city who haven’t seen the mountains, who haven’t been on a carousel, who haven’t pet a horse or a llama, never seen them. So if I can open my gates and see that bliss, an explosion of screaming laughter from the children, and they run on the rides, I say ‘Thank you, God.’ I feel I’ve won God’s smile of approval, because I’m doing something that brings joy and happiness to other people.” (interview with Geraldo Rivera, 2005)

A full restoration of Neverland, the enchanting home of the King of Pop, may be difficult but it’s not impossible. The Chaplin Estate faced similar problems when transforming Chaplin’s former home, the estate of Manoir de Ban in Switzerland, into Chaplin’s World. Yet they succeeded: the mansion has been succesfully restored and a magnificent film museum has been created right beside it.

If the Chaplins can pull it off in the pristine Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, then surely Colony Capital, Jackson’s Estate or any other investor can do the same in Los Olivos. Neverland was, and still is, Jackson’s visionary world of natural beauty, music and magic. If that’s not worth preserving for future generations, what is?

© Annemarie Latour

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8 thoughts on “7 reasons why Michael Jackson’s Neverland should be a museum”

  1. President Trump claims such a dear friend to Michael, then why don’t he back this with his power? Mmhmm do something good to get on my good side LOL 😛 Seriously, I would love to see Neverland brought to life for Michael’s positive legacy. Just joking pulling the Trump card, but he could maybe prove to be a strong allie for the cause combatting the opposing local government there always shutting down the idea 😉 (Y) Sony, Jacksons, fans… isn’t there anything we can do to finally see this thru? This would be a dream come true… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Sean, thanks for replying! The Trump card crossed my mind as well when writing this blog. On the other hand, it would forever ‘stick’ to Neverland if that would be the way the property achieves its rightful purpose. But undoubtedly, there will be politics involved if Neverland changes ownership. Let’s just hope it falls into the right hands 😉

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  2. Great article, and as someone who likes to pay a visit to Neverland at least once a year (God willing) I agree that this is THE place where MIchael Jackson can best be honoured. While it is sad to see precious MJ memorabelia frequently up for auction, I think it important to point out that the items are NOT being sold by his Estate, who retain whatever was in Michael’s possession at the time of his death. But there is a lot of stuff that was already out there that has been auctioned off for increasingly higher prices – which is always sad to see. Even if there WAS an MJ museum, items that are in the hands of private owners and collectors would only end up there if gifted to the museum or purchased from them for the museum. Housing a museum is but one worthy functioin that the ranch could fulfill in honouring Michael’s memory. There could be music and dance academies for talented youngsters who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford this kind of training or experience. The zoo facilities are currently used by a local wildlife and animal rescue and rehabilitation group – this too could provide experience and training opportunities for people looking for a career in those areas, or just to give kids a chance to get up close to animals they might otherwise never see if coming from inner city, under priviledged backgrounds. Michael did that – and he paid for it. Any of the affore-mentioned activities require a constant flow of income to fund it. Michael is not here to do it, and it remains to be seen whether is heirs will commit to it and be able to have a business/organisational plan and structure to maintain it in perpetuity. At present the biggest stumbling block is the local zoning laws, which would need to be changed if the was to be any charging of fees for others to use the many fascilities the ranch offers (other than for ranching). The county is known to be very stubborn with respect to zoning matters. However, the continuing (and rising) tide of support to safe Neverland from sale gives me hope that something will happen to help realise our dreams for the property as a permanent testament to Michael’s loving spirit – which is still there (for those who open their hearts to it).

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    1. Hi Kerry, thanks for your great additions! Yes, one of MJ’s wishes was to turn Neverland into a School for the Performing Arts. That could be another purpose, as well as a zoo for rescued animals. The ranch can be used in more than one way, which I believe is what could make the idea of keeping the property in MJ’s name feasible money-wise. There is, indeed, the bigger question of how to generate enough income to keep Neverland going. It would also be interesting to see how Chaplin’s World does it, as they use the museum and park for various purposes as well. As for zoning, that’s another big hurdle to take. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

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  3. oops… please excuse my numerous typos… always happens when I write quickly and passionately about something! Just another note re the Estate (and I don’t want to necessarily be an apologist for them) but it is my understanding from the various court docs re the Tohme case and from the Estate’s accounting docs that they have zero equity in the ranch and that Colony Capital can do with it as they please (unfortunately). Certainly they have been maintaining and spending all the money on it since Michael passed and got it in shape to go on the market, as apparently was the original agreement when they took over the loan on the property, again per the court documents re Tohme. It’s obvious though that Michael held on to the ranch and held on to it even though it would have solved some of his financial woes if he’d sold it. His reluctance to let it go – and the fact that his children (Paris, demonstrably) have wonderful memories of it, not to mention what it represents to us fans, is good enough reason to not let it become just another upmarkete ranching property in the Santa Ynez Valley.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, the question is what MJ’s Estate really can do in this matter, as they may own / yet-not-really-own the ranch. In addition, they’re up to their neck in court cases and other financial worries (IRS). At the same time, it’s been nearly eight years and there’s still no sign of a museum whatsoever. Original parts of Neverland – for example the amusement rides – could be lost forever unless someone traces them and buys them back. As time passes, the urgency increases. In any case, selling Neverland to the highest bidder, I believe, would be a huge mistake, both financially and legacy-wise. There’s no replacing an estate and home that’s as iconic and relevant to music history as Neverland.

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