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If you do not know the history of Neverland, then you may not know that the Ranch is located in the area where the Native American Chumash tribe lived in for millennia: the first settlements, in fact, date back to about 10,000 years ago.

The Chumash have left a wide range of cave paintings inside caves, on the slopes of mountains, and various rocky surfaces, often near streams and springs. Zaca Lake area was used in tribal ceremonies by the Chumash Native Americans.

The natives believed that these places had a direct connection with the supernatural and were often frequented by alchuklash, the shamans, to have their visions by entering an altered state of consciousness through the use of hallucinogenic substances.

While cross-checking various Santa Ynez Valley readings with the employees’ testimonies who worked on the Ranch, I found interesting legends and episodes, clearly to be assumed in a semi-serious tone. So, it appears that Neverland’s magical atmosphere would come directly from the ancient Chumash settlements. The presence of an entity that the ranch employees and Michael himself called “George” seemed to be for everyone the property’s real boss.  Actually, Zaca Lake is located directly behind Michael’s property.

.Originally, what became Michael Jackson’s property was part of the Rancho La Laguna, land granted in1845 by Santa Barbara County to the retired Artillery Sergent Octaviano Gutierrez to raise cattle and maintain his family. It developed in 11 Square Leagues (48,703.99 acres). The land remained under his ownership up to a sale of oil exploration rights in 1865.

The first Yankee owner was Samuel Brinkerhoff, M.D. Then a group of investors from Pasadena purchased in 1908 the land and held it until the breakup in 1941.

In 1952 Francis Sedgwick bought the land. He was a sculptor; among his best-known works of art are the Laurel Hill Memorial monument in San Francisco; the Dumbarton Oaks “Pan”; the American Field Service monument in London; the cowboy statue at Earl Warren Showgrounds; Saint Barbara, in the patio of the Santa Barbara Historical Society Museum; The Conquistador at Cabrillo Senior High School in Lompoc and many others in Massachusetts, England and France and portrayal of St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, set in the middle of the cloistered patio of the Old Mission.

He renamed the area and began working out with the local artists, invited other artists to come and take part in Sedgwick’s beauty, starting a legacy of arts and education that remains today. Archaeologists have cataloged Chumash burial sites over 2,000 years old. According to artifacts found on the property, it appears to have been both a residence and path between Chumash villages up until 1822. After this time, the Santa Ynez Valley were removed from their villages and baptized into missions.

In 1967, Mr. Sedgwick donated a controlling interest in 5,114 acres in the Ranch to UC Santa Barbara, hoping that the entire property would go to the UCSB when he and his wife were gone. Since then, the property had been divided and subdivided into vineyards and ranches. Midland School and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch are part of La Laguna’s eastern lobe.


In 1977 William Bone, a PGA West Resort developer in Palm Springs and many condos in the desert bought the Zaca Laderas Ranch property from banker Robert Easton after five years of research through California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Santa Ynez Valley is a quiet valley of untouched small towns cooled by the ocean breeze, in the middle of a gentle landscape of hills and San Rafael and Santa Ynez mountains as a backdrop. A sense of history and local pride of the area offer some seclusion a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. Before 1977, the Sycamore Valley Ranch was underdeveloped, used only for oat farming and cattle ranching.

Bone renamed it Sycamore Valley Ranch and moved his family into the property’s modest old ranch house. Soon started to work with his architect, Robert Altevers, to design what he had in mind. It had taken a two-and-a-half-year design-idea research expedition.

They built the huge mansion – with gardens, guest houses, an artificial lake with a waterfall, and a stone bridge. By 1982,  the Tudor-style house was finally complete. Apparently, Bone’s had plans to turn the property into a country club, but he failed. He used to rent the Ranch to movie productions such as the horror flick “Friday the 13th:  The Final Chapter,” and a remake then canceled of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

In 1982, MJ discovered and fell in love with the region and the Ranch when he shot the video clip Say Say Say, with Paul McCartney, some scenes of which were shot at the Sycamore Valley Ranch. The main home boasts 13,000 square feet, surrounded by 50,000 majestic oak trees on a 2,800-acre dream, which may engage your imagination. When Michael saw this sprawling ranch property, he knew it would be his home. He might have felt a kind of magic there.

Sycamore Valley Ranch in 1982

Here how Katherine Jackson commented on his son new home: “Michael had really fallen in love with this part of California in 1982 when he and Paul McCartney filmed their Say Say Say music video there. During the filming, Paul and his wife Linda had rented the Sycamore Ranch, an incredible property, a ranch set in a property of about 1,500 hectares, covered with oak trees, and it was a gem, a sort of two-story European manor house. . The developer who had this house built, hired around thirty craftsmen to build the house according to European standards. The result was an almost new house, which looked like it came out of another era, another century, because of all the details of wood, beautifully crafted half-timbering. Michael visited Paul and Linda at the Ranch, and he fell in love with this house. It was later, in March 1988, when he bought the house, that I realized how much he cared about it.”

Sycamore Full View Park 1982

William Bone, at that moment, was unwilling to sell. A few years later, in 1987, he changed his mind and put the property on the market. Michael came forward quickly. But other potential buyers are on the deal, and Bone was offering the Ranch for $ 35 million with furniture or $ 32.5 million empty.

Michael Jackson was enthusiastic about the place, but not his at the time lawyer, John Branca that considered the investment too high and then engaged in tough negotiations to lower the price. As Bone appeared to be on the verge of accepting their offer, suddenly he retracted, stating that emotionally was too difficult for him to part with the Ranch. Negotiations resumed, and finally, for 17 million, Michael Jackson became the owner of Sycamore Ranch, its furniture, dishes, and its wine cellar.

One of the contract clauses stipulated that Bone was authorized to come and stay there for one week per year, from 1988 to 1991.

John Branca and Marshall Gelfand first finalized the purchase with a Trust. A few weeks later, on February 28, 1988, Michael Jackson signed a document that designated him as the premises’ sole owner.

The purchase of the property as follows:
1. The land $ 2,779,000
2. Actual property improvements $ 375,000
3. Residential real estate improvements $ 11,490,000
4. Personal property of the farm (ranch) $ 11,000
5. Residential personal property $ 2,245,000
TOTAL $ 17,000,000

Click here to read the contract. 

I believe Mr. Bone never in a million years could have predicted what the Ranch would become in the collective imaginary.


I like to retrace the extensive construction started from a cattle ranch into Neverland through Tony Urquidez’s words, owner of Urquidez Construction in Los Olivos. His company built the gatehouse, the amusement park, train station, and other elements — even made the piece of equipment for the “Smooth Criminal” music video.

Recalling his first project in 1988, he said, “I was called by a local architect to bid a proposal for a gatehouse, but didn’t know at the time who it was for. We weren’t the cheapest, but we estimated to get it built faster than the other bids.”

Neverland gatehouse

While he was building the gatehouse, a limousine came down the driveway, and he had to quickly move the truck that was blocking the Ranch’s driveway. As the limo drove by, it paused, and the window rolled down a bit so that he could just see two eyes looking at him before it continued.

At project completion, Urquidez received a phone call from a person claiming to be Michael Jackson. He hung up on him, thinking it was a joke. The phone rang again, and the person on the other end assured him it was, in fact, Michael Jackson.

Note: Hanging up to Michael’s face the first time he called is one of the most recurrent episodes of all who have had personal relationships with him.

To make a long story short, MJ asked Urquidez to come to a meeting the next week — “and that was the beginning of Neverland.

Nobody could think that the whole area after Michael Jackson’s purchased the Ranch would become an almost imaginary place. Little or nothing was known since Michael Jackson invited only close friends and family. The turning point came when, in 1991,  Jackson offered Elizabeth Taylor marriage the fabulous setting of Neverland: it was then that the Ranch began to enter the collective imagination, becoming almost a place of worship.

“He immediately asked me to step outside with him, and we took off from everyone, even his bodyguards. We zoomed around the Ranch on a golf cart, and he explained his vision for Neverland, the amusement park, the large animal zoo, theater, train, everything. I just thought to myself, ‘This guy is goofy,’” Urquidez said.

Neverland Theater

The next project Urquidez worked on at Neverland was the theater, with a state-of-the-art sound system, a candy and popcorn bar, a dance room, seats that had beds, and a stage big enough to fit an elephant under it if need be.

He wasn’t the demanding type, but more of a little kid that wanted things immediately. We had crews working all hours of the day, and you could tell Michael was excited. He put pressure on me, but it was a different kind of pressure, a fun pressure. Michael gave me a mental visual of what he wanted, and I had the freedom to create. After several projects like the Magic Walkway, the bridge to the treehouse, the pirate ship, and the water fort, we had a language to ourselves. I knew what he was envisioning, and I made it happen,” Urquidez said.

Jackson would call Urquidez’s son Aaron when he was a teenager, asking him about the latest trends in toys and games, and then have him and his older brother Chris come out to test them. “My favorite was the water fort. It was made into ‘Old West’ buildings, and we would have teams against each other shooting out of water cannons and guns,” Aaron said.

In researching all the amusement rides and games Jackson had on his Ranch, Urquidez would go to conventions all over the country and even to amusement parks to test the rides in person. “Michael always had to have the biggest and the best. The upside to all the strange requests was that I was able to work on projects I’ll never get to do again,” he said.

When Urquidez built the steam-engine train that looped around the property, he received direct orders from Jackson to make it possible for bed-ridden people to ride. Shortly after the train layout was completed, a bed-ridden, terminally ill boy with cancer visited Neverland, and he died days after his visit. Urquidez heard that the boy was all smiles about the train ride and died peacefully.

He would call me, and we would have personal talks, but I can say in the amount of time I spent at Neverland, I never saw anything out of the ordinary. Yes, he had sleepovers, but I never got a weird feeling”. “He sometimes asked for my boys to spend the night, and the only reason I said no was that I knew they would be up all night eating sugar, and I didn’t want to deal with them like that Urquidez said. Urquidez has a high opinion of Jackson and thinks of him as a philanthropist. Jackson loved opening his Ranch to underprivileged, inner-city, and local children, he said.

Urquidez proudly remembers when Time magazine 1993 showcased the Ranch’s amusement park, and he recalled instances of Jackson’s personality. “Working with him so regularly, you forgot how big he was. I got a rare glimpse into his life, and sometimes he would just burst into song or dance, and I would think to myself, ‘Wow, that’s Michael Jackson!” Urquidez said.

He has throngs of memorabilia and items that Jackson personally gave to him, such as the original casting for the number 1 symbol off the steam engine and the hat from the “Smooth Criminal” music video.

Jackson defies gravity. Actually, Urquidez built the hitch that Jackson could clip into the stage, allowing him to lean forward beyond his center of gravity. “He was always giving and so considerate. In the years we spent together, he never once tried to buy my affection. Michael was brilliant,” Urquidez said.

Coming back to the Chumash legends and “George,” many employees at Neverland claim to have experienced his appearances.

Ray Robledo, co-author of “Behind the Gate of Neverland,” wrote about certain events that often occurred and were unexplainable. Ray worked at Neverland Valley from 1989 until 1996. His first job was in security, where he patrolled the perimeters of the Ranch. Later, he worked in the amusement park, where his tasks involved maintaining and operating the rides and driving the train for the visitors and, of course, for Michael. After spending time learning the ropes, he became Manager of the park and was in charge of a small team.

In his book, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to  “George” and describes with a style between the frightened and the amused some episodes that even Michael himself had experienced and shared with securities employees. It seems certain that “George” kept things interesting at Neverland.

There many odd incidents would occur. Almost everyone who worked at the Ranch would tell you they had an encounter with “George.” These visits from “George” not only occurred at night (when people say most paranormal events occur) but also during the day. While I never thought he intended harm to anyone, I think he just wanted to let you know he was there and present.

” It may sound imaginary, but as I sit here and tell you about “George,” goosebumps cover my arms. I know many people are going to be skeptical about “George” but let me assure you – he is very real. During my entire time at Neverland, he played many pranks on the employees”.

Despite being nothing more than a series of playful and funny anecdotes, one of the most media low-level rags did not miss the opportunity to turn against Michael in 2019.

Who knows…maybe it was George



 Lori Armstrong; Ray Robledo. Behind the Gates of Neverland: Conversations with Michael Jackson. Lori Armstrong.

The Jacksons: An American Dream 







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