Filmmaker George Lucas Spurns West Coast for Chicago Museum Home

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
George Lucas

Filmmaker George Lucas, unhappy after not landing his first choice in San Francisco’s Presidio to build a $250 million museum for his $1-billion art collection, is taking the project to Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune referred to the “bungled” San Francisco effort in its story announcing the decision Tuesday and the San Francisco Chronicle lamented the end of the “long and thorny saga.”

Like the “Star Wars” movies he produces and directs, it seemed like each new episode of the twisted tale about where Lucas’ vast collection of American art and Hollywood memorabilia would land diminished the franchise ever so slightly.  

Lucas wanted a coveted spot along the Bay at Crissy Field in northern San Francisco. He had been talking to the Presidio Trust for years and had a lot of big-name political support, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Governor Jerry Brown. But resistance to his project was strong.

The 93,000-square-foot-museum would have included five galleries, a lecture hall, a theater, a café, a gift shop and the arguably the world’s largest movie-poster collection. Some critics preferred leaving the space open; others favored competing projects that had a different sensibility.

One group pitched the Bridge/Sustainability Institute, a cultural center “to explore the critical social, economic and environmental issues of our time,” while the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy pitched a cultural center of its own whose features included cooking classes, film festivals, workshops and interactive art installations. 

Lucas is said to have called them “a jar of jargon.”

When the trust announced in February they hadn’t reached a decision other than to eliminate Lucas’ project, it offered him another Presidio location near the Letterman Digital Arts Center. He built the center, which is the headquarters for Lucasfilm.

Lucas was not happy and let it be known that he would talk to other cities, including his wife Mellody Hobson’s hometown of Chicago. Hobson is the former president of Ariel, a Chicago investment firm with $9 billion in assets, and current chairman of the board at Dreamworks Animation.

Sensing that Lucas was about to take his project east, or respond to a last-minute long-shot proposal from Los Angeles, San Francisco offered him a different waterfront spot near the Bay Bridge, across from the Embarcadero. Lucas opted for a Lake Michigan waterfront location instead.

Although Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who enthusiastically courted Lucas, usually gets what he wants, the property he promised to the filmmaker is not unencumbered. The site is near the museum complex that includes the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Alder Planetarium. Friends of the Park, an advocacy group, argues that the Lakefront Protection Ordinance clearly forbids any construction project east of Lake Shore Drive, where Lucas’ museum would be. The group threatened legal action.

The saga continues.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Chicago Beats Out S.F. for George Lucas' Museum (by Evan Sernoffsky, San Francisco Chronicle)

Chicago to Get George Lucas Museum (by Michael Sneed, Chicago Sun-Times)

Chicago Wins George Lucas Museum (by Melissa Harris, Chicago Tribune)

George Lucas Museum Coming to Chicago (CBS Chicago)

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