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George Lucas Chooses Chicago for Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

Director-producer George Lucas has chosen to build his museum in Chicago. Subject to the approval of the Chicago Plan Commission, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be built in Burnham Park near the Museum Campus (home to The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, and the John G. Shedd Aquarium). It will sit between the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place and Soldier Field.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also attempted to lure George Lucas into building his museum in L.A. after The Presidio Trust rejected his proposal.  His effort included a large-scale social media campaign.
City of Los Angeles

The Associated Press reported Tuesday, “Star Wars creator George Lucas has selected Chicago to build his museum of art and movie memorabilia.”

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, confirmed the decision. McCaffrey did not have any immediate details about the much-anticipated decision by the filmmaker. But the choice is a major victory for Emanuel and the nation's third-largest city, which was competing with San Francisco for the museum.

It was unclear for weeks whether Chicago or San Francisco would be selected. Some people thought Chicago might have the upper hand because Lucas' wife is from Chicago and because of Emanuel's powers of persuasion. But Lucas is a California native, his visual effects division is based in San Francisco and the headquarters for LucasFilm and Skywalker Sound is in nearby Marin County.

Mayor Emanuel (or whomever might else Tweet on his behalf) confirmed the decision. ChicagoMayor Tweeted at 3:26 Tuesday afternoon, “It's true. They are pointing toward Chicago. Stay tuned for a live announcement.”

Dick Johnson reported for NBC-5 that the “The City Task Force report estimates the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum will add more than $2,000,000,000 of tourist spending and tax revenue.” He added, “Chicagoan Melody Hobson is Mrs. George Lucas and they have a home here. As they envision it, the museum will showcase all that can’t fit on the walls in their homes, the largest movie poster collection in the world, reversed artists like [Norman] Rockwell, and, of course, the genius special effects from the mind of the man himself.” Regarding the fear that Bears fans will no longer be able to tail-gate, Mayor Emanuel said at the press conference, “We worked that issue out.”

In a story posted on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site at 6:35 a.m. on Tuesday, June 25, 2014, Melissa Harris wrote, “Pending approval by the Chicago Plan Commission, Lucas' institution would be built on what are now parking lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place and would open in 2018. Architectural renderings will be presented to city officials in early fall, according to a statement from the museum.”

Ms. Harris also revealed Tuesday that the Board of the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum would vote Wednesday to change its name to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. They indeed made this decision and the Museum Web site already reflects the name change.

Back on April 10, 2014, Ms. Harris reported that Lucas had planned to establish a $300,000,000 museum in San Francisco, but his negotiations with The Presidio Trust had “stalled” and he was now considering building it in Chicago. Despite having the backing of California Governor Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as director Martin Scorsese, the Presidio Trust voted unanimously Monday, February 3, 3014 against George Lucas’s proposal to build a museum on an eight-acre site currently occupied by a Sports Basement store at Crissy Field on the former U.S. Army base known as The Presidio of San Francisco.[1] They also rejected proposals by the Golden Gate national parks Conservancy and the architectural firm WRNS Studio, as John King reported for a Hearst publication.

Lucas had been willing to spend $700,000,000 to build and endow the museum. "For four years, we have been told that the only site available is the Sports Basement site, and we have worked and reworked our plan to make it work," David Perry, a spokesman for George Lucas, said. "Now, literally in the past few hours, we hear there is an alternative site."

Journalists tended to focus on the competition between Chicago and San Francisco, but Los Angeles also made a play to host the Lucas Museum. As Kriston Capps reported, “The news [about The Presidio Trust] couldn't be better for Los Angeles, which is anxious to land the Lucas center. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mayor Eric Garcetti aims to tear down the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (located near the University of Southern California) and host the Lucas museum in its place.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote an open letter to George Lucas and his wife.

Dear Mr. George Lucas & Ms. Mellody Hobson,

I’m excited about your plan to build the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum. This center presents such an amazing opportunity to inspire creativity, especially in our youth. We'd like you to consider opening your museum in a place where its impact can be amplified like no other, Los Angeles.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the residents of Los Angeles
Here are some reasons my fellow Angelenos and I have for #WhyLucasInLA:

Heart of our city. More than a tourist spot, we’re offering a space in famous Expo Park near dinosaurs and a spaceship #WhyLucasInLA

Education for all our kids. Every student in LA can visit, giving us 640,000+ chances a year to inspire the next great creator #WhyLucasInLA

Everyone in. Building in a diverse community allows all our youth to see arts & entertainment as part of their world #WhyLucasInLA

A global hub. Home to a thriving downtown with awarded food, art, music & culture, LA welcomes 42.2M visitors a year #WhyLucasInLA

Creativity Thrives Here. LA is the creative capital of the world. We nurture and create storytellers #WhyLucasInLA…

Ms. Capps noted, “San Francisco has a new hope to build Lucas's museum now, though. The Presidio Trust has offered Lucas a separate parcel, one next door to a place that he already owns, the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Not to be outdone, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee sent Lucas a letter appealing on behalf of his city—an effort co-signed by nearly every former mayor of San Francisco from the last four decades.”

The first link in that paragraph is to a story that appeared in SFGate, the same Hearst publication King wrote for, a digital version of the San Francisco Chronicle. Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross wrote on February 6, 2014, “The Presidio Trust, having nixed George Lucas' plan for a museum across from Crissy Field, is instead offering the "Star Wars" creator a site next to his Letterman Digital Arts Center to house his collection of Americana art and Hollywood memorabilia.”

Strictly speaking, though, this isn’t true. The Letterman Digital Arts Center, built on the site of the demolished Letterman Army Hospital, houses Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts, and several administrative offices of Lucasfilm. However, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to The Wald Disney Company, which paid him in stock (the same way Disney paid Steve Jobs in stock for Pixar).

Industrial Light & Magic is a division of Lucasfilm and LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC (formerly Lucasfilm Games) is a subsidiary of Lucasfilm. Unless Lucas made a separate deal with Disney in which he retained title to the building (or the land under the building), Disney owns that building (and he owns a stake in Disney).

Mayor Lee separately hoped to persuade Lucas to build the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum at SeawWall Lot 330 in the Embarcadero district at the Port of San Francisco. He hung up banners there and at San Francisco City Hall (a magnificent Beaux-Arts building).

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, before a decision had been reached, Nicolette S. Anderson wrote for NBC Bay Area, “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed building the museum on two parking lots located near Soldier Field, the stadium that plays host to the Chicago Bears. While Chicago can't provide California's climate appeal, Emanuel is offering to lease the land to Lucas for $1, a similar arrangement other large cultural institutions have with the Chicago Park District.”

While some tailgating Bears fans worry over traffic and parking problems that could arise from the plan, supporters say the boost to tourism would be worth the sacrifices.

On May 20, 2014, Ms. Harris wrote, “The proposed site, two Chicago Park District-owned parking lots, are located between the stadium and McCormick Place and within walking distance of the Museum Campus.”

She related that, under this proposal, the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum (as it was then known) would lease the site for $1, “which is similar to the arrangement other large cultural institutions have with the Chicago Park District.” However, it will not receive taxpayer subsidies.

The task force's theory is that the museum, which would hold artwork and more than 500,000 pieces of movie memorabilia, would draw in conventioneers on foot while also creating a new lakefront park on land that is now asphalt, according to the 56-page reported obtained by The Tribune…

The site is about 15 acres and the footprint of a museum the size of The Field Museum would be about 5 acres, leaving 10 acres for new parkland, said [a mayoral aide, Chief of Policy and Strategic Planning David] Spielfogel.

Meanwhile, the lots, known as the south surface lot and the Waldron parking deck/garage, which are home to thousands of tailgaters during Bears' home games, would be moved underground at Lucas' expense, according to a city official. The report does not detail if or where tailgating would be permitted in that area; but grills and open fire pits already are prohibited in the stadium's north garage.

May 21, 2014, John Coté wrote for SFGate, “Even some San Francisco officials looking to get the museum built here privately conceded Chicago is offering an attractive location.”

The A.P. reported, “Lucas' selection of Chicago over Los Angeles and San Francisco is considered a major coup for Emanuel, who aggressively made his city's case for the project. On Wednesday, Emanuel said the Lucas museum will mean 1,500 construction jobs and as many as 500 permanent jobs. He said it will also be a major tourist attraction will generate millions of dollars in tax revenues for the city.”

In a Letter to the Editor, Judy Adami wrote, “In response to George Lucas' decision on choosing Chicago over San Francisco: Who can blame him? The Presidio Trust should be ashamed of itself for its unprofessionalism and its inefficiency. First it opens the bidding proposals on the Sports Basement site - narrows it down to three finalists - tells all the sponsors to change their plans to meet their vision of the site and, finally, tells all three to forget it. Trust board members needed more time to ‘rethink’ their vision of the proposed site.”

Building the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in is a wise decision. By placing it here, the air trip will be two hours longer for visitors from Asia and Australasia, but it will be shorter for visitors from the East Coast of the U.S. (and also Canada), the South, parts of Mexico, all of Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Near East.

A museum Lucas builds here will be able to leverage our existent cultural institutions. The staff at his museum could, for example collaborate with curators and librarians at The Field Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Newberry Library to create exhibits on real-world historical and mythological inspirations for Star Wars.

They could work with Adler Planetarium curators on exhibits about how the work of real astronomers, rocket scientists, and astronauts (and cosmonauts) influence science fiction novelists and filmmakers and vice versa. They could work with the zoologists and curators at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo to create exhibits on the use of real animals in the Indiana Jones films or how real animals inspired science fiction creatures in Star Wars.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art curators could work with the librarians at the Pritzker Military Library for an exhibit on World War II as the backdrop for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Red Tails (2012). They could work with the Collections staff at the Museum of Science & Industry on exhibits about the technologies that go into making and screening movies. They could work with the Museum of Broadcast Communications on exhibits on television shows that Lucas produced such as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-96).

[1] This is a very old army base originally built by the Spanish Royal Army as El Presidio Real de San Francisco (The Royal Fort of Saint Francis). It has passed through the hands of the Kingdom of Spain (as part of New Spain), the First Mexican Empire, the First Mexican Republic, and the United States. After the Cold War and the First American-Iraqi War, Congress (quite stupidly) voted to disband the U.S. Sixth Army (only to later designate U.S. Army South the U.S. Sixth Army in 2006), because, ya know, we were never going to fight a war again, transferred the Presidio to the National Park Service, and then Congress voted in 1997 to privatize the Presidio.


Happy Birthday, Will!

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