18 March 2009

Celebrity Cribs: Abandoned Edition

Between the economic downturn and the vicissitudes of celebrity life, there’s been a lot of news about abandoned buildings lately, including lots of examples of creative reuses of urban landscapes. (The Foreclosed Backyards National Skate Park, anyone?)

Downturns hit the rich and famous, too. As a delightful side effect, we get to see the very beginnings of the archaeological process at work in a few now-abandoned cribs of powerful people. These houses provoke a rich set of feelings: voyeuristic pleasure, combined with the beauty of decay, and the poignancy of a fall from grace.

Take Mike Tyson’s mansion in the Firelands of northern Ohio. The TV is busted, the indoor pool green and scummy. For some reason I’m reminded of touring a medieval keep somewhere in Ireland – the same sense of exotic opulence and privilege, now emptied of its power and open to prying eyes. Tyson's lawyer made Illicit Ohio take down their full photoset, but there's lots of copies floating around the web.

Fergie’s former palatial manse in Berkshire (this is the non-singing Duchess (of York), and the English Berkshire) now lies in not-so-picturesque ruins, with some photos courtesy of the intrepid reporters at the Daily Mirror. What a hideous carpet.

The granddaddy of them all, and by far the most bizarre and breathtaking, is Michael Jackson’s former home at Neverland. Stop what you’re doing right now and spend some time looking at my friend Tunnelbug’s story and photos from the place. Astonishing how it is beautiful and totally insane at the same time.

It seems pretty unlikely that these structures will be preserved as well as the great celebrity cribs of the past – our modern mania for tearing down and rebuilding makes the chances pretty slim that Neverland will be the new Domus Aurea or Masada for some lucky archaeologist in 4009 CE. I guess we'll just ahve to imagine those future ruins into being.


  1. What interesting commentary on what might already be a bygone era? So creepy at night, Neverland. In other news, archaeology in Hawai`i has taken to exploring what's below existing buildings in search for where the ancient shoreline meets Waikiki fill, or where there might be other evidence of human activity. Saw photos of a backhoe in a jewelery shop and cores being drilled through a foundation slab in an abandonded building in a presentation today. Flies in the face of the common assumption that there's no cultural remnants under existing buildings. Not a common assumption among archaeologists, I would assume. I wonder what's under Neverland.

  2. Cool blog Danny. Reminds me of the abandoned theme parks in Japan (like the one featured in Spirited Away)... i can't believe that Michael Jackson let his Neverland Ranch go like that. He must have some of the worst management in the history of man. Seriously. All celebrities of that level go bonkers or were bonkers to start with, they just need someone to mediate between them & the media. That's it. & they couldn't do it. Idiots. Neverland Ranch should be the same thing as Graceland, a shrine to an idol.