Thursday, December 26, 2013

Buying Neverland

If you have read the real estate brochure posted elsewhere on this blog, you will know that the original owner, William Bone, put a lot of work and money into building what was then the Sycamore Valley Ranch. Consequently, it can hardly be a surprise that he was not willing to sell at any price, so when Michael decided to buy the ranch, the process of purchasing it ended up being rather lenghty. (Which I suppose, is not unusual for properties of this size and value.)

Below, you will find copies of Michael's first $13 million offer, dated July 2nd, 1987 - as well as a $100.000 cashiers check dated July 6th, 1987. (Gloria Rhoads Berlin says in her book "In Search Of Neverland" that it was a $200.000 cashiers check, but also that Michael's offer had to be taken to John Branca et al. for approval and that the advisors kept interfering, saying the offer was too high. In fact, Branca suggested that Michael make a $9 million offer. So perhaps the amount on the cashiers check was lowered during the approval process - or Mrs. Berlin forgot a tiny detail, which I am sure we will all forgive her.)

Bill Bray and Mrs. Berlin took the offer to Aspen, where Bone was skiing at the time and I think it is safe to say that he was not happy with Michael's offer. According to Mrs. Berlin's book his eyes teared up as he told them he found the offer totally unacceptable. Later he added that had she been a man he would have puched her in the face.

"Bill Bray's mouth was hanging open and he was alternately looking at me and then Bill Bone. He didn't offer to protect me and looked like he would have preferred to be anywhere other than witness to this conversation." ("In Search Of  Neverland, p. 81.)

Michael made another offer on July 20th, 1987, but this $14 million offer was also found unacceptable by Bone. Then followed a third offer on September 4th - this time for $14.250.000. And still Bone was not impressed. Michael then raised his offer another $250.000 and so it would continue until December 18th, 1987 when Michael offered $17 million and Bone finally accepted.

First page of the agreement for purchase and sale with Michael's initials

The agreement for the purchase and sale was signed on February 28th, 1988 with the purchase price calculated as follows:

1. Land                                                      $2.779.000
2. Farm real property improvements              $375.000
3. Residential real property improvements $11.490.000
4. Farm personal property                               $11.000
5. Residential personal property                  $2.245.000
                                                  TOTAL $17.000.000

And then - as a curiosity:
The Los Angeles Times article on the purchase from March 1988.
(As you will see even a relatively respectable news paper like the Los Angeles Times failed to get the important details right.)

Hot Property
Michael Jackson to Be Home on the Range

March 20, 1988 |RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer
Michael Jackson is on a 13-city concert tour, but when he comes home, it probably won't be just to Encino anymore.
He is buying a 2,700-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley for about $28 million and a small hotel nearby, for his entourage, for $5 million, say several real estate sources.

The pop star was looking at Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara but needed a more rural environment for his menagerie. At last count, he had monkeys, llamas, snakes, birds and just about every kind of farmyard animal except a cow at his 1-acre Encino compound, where he and his family have lived since the '60s.
They will have plenty of room to stretch on the remote Sycamore Valley Ranch, which is being sold by William Bone, developer of the PGA West resort in Palm Springs and scores of condos in the desert.

Bone bought the place, then known as the Zaca Laderas Ranch, in 1977 from banker Robert Easton.
Bone developed a large clubhouse at Sycamore Valley Ranch and apparently had plans to turn the property into a country club but changed his mind. The ranch has been on the market for at least a year.
Besides the clubhouse, the property has a huge house on a 32-acre home site and 50,000 oak trees.
Bone was asking $32 million, and turned down Jackson's original offer of $17 million. Escrow hasn't closed yet on the $28-million sale.

There is no news yet on whether Jackson will sell his Encino home, which he expanded in 1982. He moved the original 1,570-square-foot house to the rear of the site then for use as a recording studio and built an 11,500-square-foot house in front along with a four-car garage with 850 square feet of living space overhead.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review - Robert E. Swinson's "Maker of Dreams"

It was during phone conversations with Tatum O'Neal in the mid-1970s that Michael's dream took root. However, it was not until the beginning of the 1990s that this dream would finally come true.

"Maker of Dreams - Creating Michael Jackson's Neverland Valley Park" documents the realization of the dream in words and hundreds of unique pictures from the private archives of the man, who Michael himself called his "Maker of dreams", Robert E. Swinson.

In June 1990, Swinson was national sales manager for Chance Rides Inc. and it was in this capacity that he mailed color brochures, photos, animal selection guides and a promotional video to an anonymous client of Wonderworks, a company specializing in models and special effects. A few days later, Swinson received a call from the mystery client - who turned out to be Michael Jackson. Michael was very excited about the carrousel video, which he admitted to have watched over and over again from his hospital bed in Santa Monica. (He was recovering from a stomach inflammation.)

Shortly thereafter, Michael ordered the custom carrousel - and subsequently the rest of the rides that would make up the Neverland Valley Park.

"Wow, I want one of those too," was a frequently uttered line during those years.

The book goes on to detail how a bare dirt area was transformed into the beautifully landscaped amusement park - from the first meetings in Michael's Neverland conference room to its completion a few years later.

The pictures, which make up most of the book, are amazing - most of them are no doubt completely unknown even to the most hard core Neverland afficionado too - and although the book is not so much about the man as it is about his dream, there are lots of Michael anedtotes included in the book. So even if Neverland is not the reader's main interest, I am sure that most fans will enjoy the book tremendously.
(One of the funniest anecdotes tells the story of Michael frequently spying on the workers from behind the corner of the theater building as they installed the rides, completely unaware that his bright red shirt gave him away every time he did so.)

Included in the book are also copies of original letters, Swinson's work diary, which is made up by transcriptions of notes and a pocket diary that he kept in 1992, a Brad Sundberg interview as well as a collection of links to related web sites and videos.

...To make a long story short - the book is a definite must-have for any fan of Michael!

Want to know more?
Visit the Maker of Dreams web site here:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Unique picture from the construction of Sycamore Valley Ranch

Sycamore Valley Ranch during construction - early 1980s
(The original picture consisted of three separate pictures that were taped together and had various damaged sections. This is a gently restored version of the original picture. Click here for large resolution.)
(Blown up section of the restored picture)

(Blown up section of the restored picture)
(Blown up section of the restored picture)

Sycamore Valley Ranch as it was presented in the real estate brochure from 1988
(Approximately same angle as the top  picture)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Never! Strong local opposition to Neverland becoming another Graceland

Will these gates remain closed to the fans forever?

In 2009, the Santa Ynez Valley community group "Never!" was formed with the sole mission of opposing any attempt to convert Neverland Ranch into a commercial venue or Graceland-like tourist attraction.

I don't know what has become of the group since then, (there are only two posts on their website) but the forming of the group is a testament to the fact that there is a great deal of - understandable and perfectly reasonable -  local opposition to Michael's former home being turned into a tourist attraction.
Still, even the best arguments are lost on a Neverland afficionado. The mind may understand, but the heart refuses to listen to common sense even though you know deep inside the dream is never going to come true.

Anyway, this is what they write on the community group website:

"In 1988, seeking a place to find peace and quiet, Michael Jackson bought the beautiful and secluded Sycamore Valley Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, and renamed it Neverland. Seventeen years later, when he lost that peace and quiet, he abruptly left the Santa Ynez Valley, never to return.

In 2008, a multi-billion dollar real estate investment firm (Colony Capital, LLC) bought the property for $35 million (with Michael Jackson a partner of unknown remaining interest) (Enola's note: It is 87,5%) and simultaneously changed the name back to Sycamore Valley Ranch. Sadly, as we all know, Michael Jackson passed away in June 2009, suddenly and tragically.

Now, it appears that a small number of people may be trying to capitalize on the unfortunate circumstance of Michael’s death, by enabling (or pursuing) a Graceland-like conversion of this remote ranch. Repeatedly asked, the owners have refused to rule out the possibility, and have acted in ways which make it look like it might be the goal: although they had immediately removed the name Neverland from the property in 2008, they recently distributed free hats that say “Neverland 2009”.

In addition, on July 10 and 11, the owners hosted a number of by-invitation-only tours of the ranch for about 150 county politicians and opinion leaders — the press was denied access. While being well fed, invitees were given comforting reassurances that there were no current plans and no desire for a burial, or for a conversion of the ranch to a tourist attraction. (After speaking with attendees, this version of events was reported by media including the Santa Barbara News-Press and KEYT.)

However, for some reason, within six hours of the first report of the meetings and the reassurances appearing on the web, someone apparently representing the owners felt compelled to issue a written statement containing none of the reassurances and making it explicit that they had not “rejected any options”. (see Etling Examiner article)

Not surprisingly, the above incidents have alarmed this community.

The overwhelming majority of Santa Ynez Valley residents, whether they have stayed here for multiple generations, or moved here more recently, have chosen to live in the rural Santa Ynez Valley for the same peace and quiet that attracted Michael Jackson.

Never! is a grassroots organization formed in response to the outcry from residents. Never! will give voice and staying power to the great majority of people of the Santa Ynez Valley who are committed to preserving this community’s rural character.

The sole mission of Never! is to stop all attempts, including creation of a burial site, to convert this secluded ranch into any type of tourist attraction — this precedent setting, urban-style development of our agricultural lands will be vigorously opposed.

Never! is proud to announce that its mission has already received support from the following community groups in the Santa Ynez Valley: Buellton Is Our Town, Preservation of Los Olivos (P.O.L.O.), Santa Rosa Road Ag Alliance, Santa Ynez Valley Alliance, and Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens.

The problem with creating a burial site at the ranch, and why it will be resisted, is that the site would immediately become a tourist attracting “shrine”. This is certain to become such a nuisance and safety concern that the property value would be destroyed for any other uses. Therefore, an attempt to create a burial site is seen as a deliberate first step towards the development of a Graceland-like tourist attraction.

1) The specific problems with this development idea relate to its huge impacts, and the total lack of necessary urban infrastructure to support it.
The number of visitors easily could reach 5,000 to 10,000 per day (Graceland and Hearst Castle reach 4-5,000 per day each) — the population of the entire Santa Ynez Valley, all five towns included, is only 22,000. This volume of additional visitors would overwhelm the community. The nearest local town is tiny, with a population of only 1,000 people, and it does not have a gas station or a sewer system.
In addition, the ranch is located in a high fire danger zone 12 miles from a fire station. It is 11 miles from the nearest sewer system, police station, gas station, and a tiny hospital. The nearest public water supply is 5 miles away. All of the roads serving the Valley are two lane rural roads; the narrow and winding five mile road to the ranch is not close to meeting the published County Design Standards.
It will take years and cost a small fortune to develop the necessary infrastructure — if the environmental impacts don’t prohibit their development altogether.

2) The general problem introduced by this idea is the precedent that it would set, which is colossal in its negative implications.
As a prerequisite for this project, the County would have to amend its General Plan to allow, for the first time, urban developments on Ag-zoned properties, county-wide. This longstanding County prohibition is the primary reason that Santa Barbara County has not gone the way of sprawling over-development — like other southern California coastal counties.
Once this door is opened, there is no good way to predict the number of requests that would come in from developers with dreams of large-scale urban projects on County agricultural lands. It is not legally supportable to treat property owners so differently that these requests could be denied.

A far superior alternative — for the Jackson family, for the millions of Michael’s fans, and for the Santa Ynez Valley — is to develop a Graceland-like attraction in a major city like Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Permission could be obtained in far less time (and at less risk), it would be far less expensive (because the necessary infrastructure already exists), and it would be many times larger (due to ready access to millions of residents and visitors).

The only significant beneficiary from doing this development in the Santa Ynez Valley is the multi-billion dollar real estate investment firm that bought the ranch on speculation.

Never! has made a request of the ranch owner: Please renew, without delay, the land conservation agreement (commonly known as “Williamson Act” contract) with the State of California.

(The “Williamson Act” contract is the premier agricultural land conservation tool in in the State of California; it offers dramatically reduced property taxes in trade for restricted development for a rolling ten year period of time. Disturbingly, the current contract covering this ranch has been placed under formal notice of non-renewal and, unless it is renewed, will expire in 2012.)

At a recent series of private meetings with about 150 local politicians and opinion leaders, representatives of the investment company stated that they did not want to see the ranch broken up, did not think it possible to adequately secure the ranch for a Michael Jackson burial site, and did not think the development of a Graceland-like scene was appropriate for the Santa Ynez Valley.

There are no fees associated with reactivating a Williamson contract, it significantly reduces property taxes, and it meets all of the owner’s publicly stated goals.

The Santa Ynez Valley community would be immediately relieved and forever grateful if the owner were to renew this Williamson Act contract without delay."