SF loses out on George Lucas art museum 

click to enlarge George Lucas
  • Wong Maye-E/ap file photo
  • "Star Wars" creator George Lucas has decided to build his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art with a collection of fine art and Hollywood memorabilia in Chicago after offers were made to base the museum in San Francisco.

Rebuffing pleas to build his museum on the San Francisco waterfront, filmmaker George Lucas announced Tuesday that Chicago had won the contest.

The decision by the "Star Wars" creator is a major victory for Chicago, which was locked in a battle for the museum with San Francisco.

"These opportunities to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in private and philanthropic investment to create new public amenities for arts and education, as Mr. Lucas had proposed, come along rarely," Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. "I am disappointed that San Francisco will not benefit from this renowned art collection and significant private investment by Mr. Lucas that would have been enjoyed by our families and children for generations to come."

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, formerly called the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, is expected to contain a collection of fine art and Hollywood memorabilia.

Chicago offered up a site on its Lake Michigan waterfront near Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play. San Francisco also offered a waterfront site near the Bay Bridge.

"We are honored to be partnering with the city of Chicago and the many cultural, educational and community groups that have come forward with ideas about how the LMNA will add to their vibrant work," Lucas said in a statement. "I am humbled to be joining such an extraordinary museum community and to be creating the museum in a city that has a long tradition of embracing the arts."

The selection was something of a surprise, given Lucas' close ties to San Francisco and California -- he is a native of the state, Lucasfilm's visual effects division is based in The City, and the headquarters for Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound is across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Los Angeles also bid for the museum.

Lucas originally sought to locate the museum in the Presidio, where Lucasfilm is based, as part of the Presidio Trust's redesign efforts for the old commissary site near Crissy Field. His proposal competed with two other ideas, but in the end none of the projects was chosen.

The Presidio Trust also offered up another site in the national park before the Chicago decision was announced.

"The Presidio Trust was enthusiastic about the potential of having the museum and its educational programming," Nancy H. Bechtle, chairwoman of the Presidio Trust board of directors, said in a statement. "The Trust turned down the project -- and two other competitors -- for the mid-Crissy Field location because the Lucas proposal was not compatible with the character of the National Historic Landmark status and National Park setting.

"The Trust encouraged Mr. Lucas to consider an alternative world-class location in the Presidio with views of the Bay, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Mr. Lucas decided not pursue this opportunity."

Previous attempts by Gap founder Donald Fisher to open a private art museum in the Presidio were rebuffed. The art collection was eventually donated to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Lucas' team had lobbied extensively for the museum at the commissary site, and even gained support from prominent figures with local ties such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lee, MC Hammer and Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.

After the Presidio decision was announced in early February, Lucas immediately said he would look elsewhere for a site, including in San Francisco.

Chicago then made a big push for the museum, and San Francisco announced in early May that it was searching for suitable sites to propose to the Lucas team.

In late May, Lee sent a letter to Lucas hoping to entice him into locating the museum on a waterfront parcel by extolling the virtues of the site and promising to help the project through San Francisco's notoriously challenging approval process.

The letter outlined the benefits of a 2.3-acre parcel known as Seawall Lot 330. It was the site the Warriors were eyeing for mixed-use development as part of an arena complex. But it was freed up last month when the franchise announced it would pursue an arena at Mission Bay instead.

Jon Golinger, who spearheaded a successful ballot measure earlier this month targeting height limits on waterfront developments, was also disappointed by the Chicago decision.

Chicago Mayor "Rahm Emanuel comes off as a Jedi knight and the Lee administration comes off as a bunch of Ewoks," he said.

Golinger criticized the Mayor's Office for not taking as proactive of an approach as Chicago, adding that Lee did not offer the waterfront site until the Warriors decided not to move there.

"It made it look a little like the Lucas folks were a Plan B," Golinger said. "The waterfront should be something we plan for instead of react to every proposal. We should decide what we want and then go out and get it, and that's certainly what Rahm Emanuel did."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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