THE gates to Michael Jackson's fabled Neverland Ranch have swung open to reveal a shell of the fantasy playground the boy-man created in his heyday.
Gone is the zoo with its elephants, tigers and giraffe. The exotic snakes have long since slithered away and the amusement park rides have been dismantled.
The five-bedroom house, with its gigantic kitchen and media room where Jackson liked to screen his beloved Disney films, are nearly empty. Only a mounting bracket indicates where his giant television used to hang.
But there are some traces of the playground's glory days, when Jackson opened it to neighbourhood children by the thousands and presided over parties as the lord of the manor. In Neverland's empty game room, for example, the doorknobs shaped like miniature basketballs, baseballs and soccer balls remain.
And on a hill overlooking the house stands the fabled train station, a near replica of the one at Disneyland with its huge floral clock. It is still a stunning sight from the front yard, although the tracks are overgrown with weeds.
In the station lobby is a snack bar and above that, accessible by only the smallest of spiral staircases, is a crow's nest of sorts with a fireplace. There Jackson must have stood and watched his trains fill up with children taking trips around his 1000-hectare estate.
The Los Olivos ranch was where authorities alleged Jackson molested a boy. The singer was acquitted in 2005 and eventually left Neverland.
Jackson once acknowledged in a television interview that he sometimes let children sleep with him in his bed in what he called innocent sleepovers.
Colony Capital, the Los Angeles firm that established a joint venture with Jackson to rescue Neverland from foreclosure last year, opened the mansion to scores of journalists on Thursday after a barrage of requests for access after Jackson died.
Colony has declined to say what it plans to do with the house and none of the handful of officials present would speak on the record. No members of the Jackson family were seen on the premises.
Visitors were allowed to roam freely for the most part as more than a dozen gardeners and maintenance workers went about their duties.
The two-storey house has several labyrinth-like corridors and stairways. A large copper bathtub sits in the middle of a hallway.
Across from the front door of the main house is the guesthouse where actress Elizabeth Taylor stayed when she married Larry Fortensky at Neverland in 1991.
Off-limits on Thursday was the empty amusement park, where Jackson and others rode bumper cars, a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. But among other things, Jackson left behind dozens of metal sculptures of children in states of play. AP