Desiree Crossley, her two daughters and a friend left Lancaster in their PT Cruiser at 1 a.m. Wednesday to be among the first in line for what they thought would be a public memorial for Michael Jackson at his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County.
About 5 a.m., they began pitching their tent on the side of Figueroa Mountain Road, taking turns hammering in stakes and trying to keep warm. They packed a portable toilet, heater and plenty of food and water to last them.
But at 2:30 p.m., Crossley and the three other women were pulling up stakes and preparing to leave. Word filtered down that there would be no public memorial at the ranch and that Jackson would not be buried there.
“It is disappointing,” Crossley said as her daughters -- Antonae Martin, 17, and Desiree Bell, 19 -- folded their tent. “But I am flexible and I’m telling you, I think the family has to come before the fans.”
Most fans who came to the ranch Wednesday stayed only briefly. Most just stood in front of the gates, snapped a few photos and left. But a few people, like Crossley and her group, brought tents and fold-out chairs. They were determined to see what events, if any, would be held at Jackson’s onetime home.
The fans often were outnumbered by media representatives, many of whom also believed Jackson would be buried there and that there would be a public memorial.
The area grew chaotic and traffic along the two-lane road grew increasingly congested. Trucks carrying construction vehicles, as well as landscaping vans, drove in and out of the compound.
Television trucks with large satellite dishes and other vehicles lined the street. Journalists jockeyed for the perfect position near the ranch’s entrance and swarmed spectators as they approached.
A blimp advertising something called “personal genetics” floated overhead while law enforcement officers tried to control traffic and threatened to tow vehicles parked in the street. At one point, officials closed part of Figueroa Mountain Road -- making spectators walk roughly 1 1/2 miles to Neverland’s entrance -- only to reopen it later.
In the early afternoon, a spokesman for the management company Releve Unlimited passed out a release saying a nearby ranch would host an event Friday. The gathering, organizers said, would commemorate Jackson’s life and legacy. For a fee of $40 per motor vehicle, fans could park at the Ted Chamberlin ranch, listen to Jackson’s music, watch music videos on large-screen televisions and buy food from vendors, according to company spokesman Scott Corridan.
In downtown Los Olivos, some locals said they hoped the furor would subside. At a coffee shop, one woman commiserated with the cashier and said. “I don’t want 250,000 people in our town either.”
Jackson bought the 2,600-acre Neverland estate -- named for Peter Pan’s magical kingdom where children never age -- for $19.5 million in 1987 and lived there for 15 years.
In March 2008, Jackson defaulted on a $24.5-million loan and Neverland went into foreclosure. But just days before it went to public auction, the private equity firm Colony Capital picked up the note on the loan. Since then, Colony has spent a reported $3 million renovating the ranch in a bid to turn it into a salable property.
Times staff writers Chris Lee and Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.