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Neverland Ranch as a state park? Officials call it a fairy tale

California Assemblyman wants to study making a state park out of Michael Jackson's storied Santa Barbara County estate. The parks department seems uninterested in such an acquisition.

July 14, 2010|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Smiling docents, green-clad rangers, music piped in everywhere — for Michael Jackson fans, Neverland State Park would no doubt be a thriller. But state park officials say it's an idea whose time may never come.

Assemblyman Mike Davis, a Los Angeles Democrat, said Tuesday that he's going to push for a study of the possibility when the Legislature meets again in August.

Jackson "was one of the world's preeminent entertainers and California is fortunate to have such a site in its jurisdiction," said Davis, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism & Internet Media. "It will absolutely be a destination for many who admire music and the performing arts."

Davis, who said he has never visited the four-square-mile site near Los Olivos, acknowledged that buying and maintaining the land might cost more than the state can afford. Corporations and nonprofits would have to chip in, he said.

Davis attributed the idea to Alice Huffman, a state parks commission member and president of the California affiliate of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. Huffman could not be reached for comment.

When they heard of the vision, officials didn't exactly cry: "This is it!"

"We've been struggling with our budgetary situation and working very, very hard to keep the parks in the system open," said Ronilee Clark, chief of the Parks and Recreation Department's southern division. "We're not necessarily looking for an acquisition at this time."

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Los Olivos area, was also dubious. William Randolph Hearst's opulent San Simeon estate was made a park in the 1950s — but the Hearst family donated it to the state, she pointed out.

Set five miles down a narrow country road, Neverland and its 25-room Tudor mansion cost Jackson about $17 million when he purchased it in 1988. Over the years, he made it his own — equipping it with a private zoo, an 80-seat theater and an amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel and cotton-candy booth. The zoo is now empty and the carnival rides have been set up at county fairs and attractions around the United States.

Neverland was the scene of massive charity events for underprivileged children and of Jackson's alleged child molestations. In an infamous case involving a 13-year-old boy, a Santa Maria jury acquitted Jackson of sex charges in 2005.

The property was acquired in 2008 by Colony Capital, a Santa Monica-based investment firm. A spokesman for Colony declined comment Tuesday.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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