The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – Back to California…but where?
*I chronicled my following of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art‘s 2 year journey from announcement to death in Chicago, in my 5,700 word blog post from May of 2016. This post continues where that one left off. If you’d like to read more about the rocky attempts to bring a new museum experience to a “world class city,” CLICK HERE
The Night Chicago Died
Ever since May 3rd, 2016, it felt like Chicago’s plans to keep the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in its city, were pretty much dead.
It all started in June of 2014, when it was announced that after reviewing different locations in the city, filmmaker and philanthropist George Lucas, had decided to build his Museum of Narrative Art, on an area along the shores of Lake Michigan, between the Soldier Field football stadium, and the McCormick Place East convention hall. The site in question, was currently serving as an ‘overflow’ parking lot, used several times a year during Chicago Bears football games.
While many of the necessary hurdles were cleared, one was unable to be cleared so easily.
Shortly after the museum’s announcement, a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, filed a lawsuit, claiming that under a local ordinance, that the land belonged to the people of Chicago, and was not to be given away to others.
Even though there was the promise of Lucas himself paying for the construction and endowment of the museum (valued at around $800 million), the group dug in their heels and refused to ‘play ball’ or negotiate, claiming that the Museum Campus grounds (which also housed The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Adler Planetarium), were off-limits. If Lucas wanted to build his museum, they were more than willing to point him to other areas away from his chosen spot.
What followed was almost two years of negotiations, as the museum’s designers and the city tried to find a compromise.
This included reducing the museum’s ‘footprint’ on the parking lot area, and giving over more space to greenery and prairie, as well as a very expensive ‘Plan B.’ ‘Plan B’ called for a $1.2 billion plan that would keep the parking lot intact, but raze the McCormick Place East convention hall, placing the museum there, with the additional 12 acres of space left over, converted back into park land.
But even this rather expensive plan would not sway the group into dropping their lawsuit.
And so on May 3rd, 2016, word was officially released by the Lucas Museum, that other cities were being considered. Lucas had already spent 2 years from 2012-2014 trying to get his museum built on a specific area of the Presidio park in San Francisco, and it seemed that was about how far he was willing to wait for Chicago as well.
A number of additional items were offered to the group as incentives, but still they refused.
The public also attempted to show their support, with a number of persons protesting outside Friends of the Parks’ downtown Chicago headquarters, and a local man named Gino Generelli, who collected 2,500 signatures for his pro-museum petition, and delivered it to the group’s headquarters.
Finally, in mid-June, with public sentiment seeming to be building against them, the group offered up a list of demands.
However, the list was deemed as “extortion” by a number of people.
It called for such requests as:
- A 100-year moratorium on any further Lakefront development
- 5% of the museum’s ticket prices going to fund additional parks projects in the city
Though the one that was almost a slap in the face, was that after claiming a month ago, that they would not accept the ‘Plan B’ site build, the list claimed that this would be the only site they would allow (meaning the original parking lot site was still off-limits).
And what of the parking lot site? That was also listed under the demands, that it be ‘reclaimed’ as green space.
After word that they would not accept that ‘Plan B’ site back in May, the Mayor had called off further interest in it, and instead attempted to get the lawsuit regarding the parking lot site thrown out. The parking lot site would also be simpler, as the ‘Plan B’ would have still meant that $1.2 billion would be needed to raze McCormick Place East, and compensate for its leveling.
Maybe if the list had been submitted 3-9 months earlier, the Mayor and associates from the Lucas Museum might have considered negotiations, but given that the non-profit was dropping this on them 23 months after the lawsuit had been filed, it looked more like them saying, “If Mr Lucas wants his Museum, he’s going to pay…and pay a lot.”
Shortly afterward, the group sent out a notice through social media, that they had been contacted by the museum’s associates, and been given a 24-hour deadline to end the lawsuit, or the museum was going to leave Chicago in the dust.
The 24-hour period ended with no deal, and on June 24th, 2016, a notice was issued that the museum was no longer going to become a lakefront addition to the Museum Campus…but would instead, be heading right back where it started from: California.
In the aftermath of the museum officially leaving the city, the Friends of the Parks group dropped their lawsuit, and were hailed by numerous persons as local heroes, having thwarted an evil outsider who looked to destroy public land (even though it was already a parking lot, and it would have also meant additional green and recreation space around the museum area).
One can only assume that maybe 50-60 years ago, there would have been little chance of stalling in getting the museum placed on the campus, but in the 21st century, priorities on what constitutes ‘importance’ to a “world class city,” have definitely changed.
Plus, Chicago as a whole never fully seemed to embrace what the museum was, or what it could do. The average person were quizzical as to what “narrative art” was, let alone the media taking every chance to call it “A Star Wars Museum,” as if it was going to become some warehouse/museum of the filmmaker’s prop collection.
But then again, the Midwest often isn’t as open-minded towards film, animation, or narrative art for that matter. While I and a select few were understanding of what was being offered, trying to convince persons on things that are more foreign than sports or local business, is often like trying to talk to a brick wall.
And so, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will surely fade from the larger collective memory of Chicago, Illinois. A city that could have had something amazing, something wonderful…but as is often the case, I’ll most likely end up visiting it when it opens where all the things regarding film and animation fascinate me: California.
Back to California, Part II
Back in February of 2016, there was word that San Francisco, CA, was looking to see if Lucas might give them a second chance, after the refusal to build his museum on land near the Presidio, on the west side of the city.
Rumor was that Oakland was even attempting to throw their hat into the ring, and a number of cities in the last week since the Museum claimed it was heading west, have also added their voice. They include Sacramento, Vallejo, and some have even recommended Lucas’ hometown, of Modesto.
However, much like his wanting the museum in Chicago and San Francisco, I still see the location George wants, being one of ‘convenience.’
Many seem to be under the impression that Lucas will build his museum, and then just walk away, but given where he’s wanted it (near a natural location, with other museum and family facilities), he surely is expecting to come out to and visit the museum as well, once it’s completed!
As of the time this post is being written, two locations are prominently being mentioned as possible locations.
Though full location details have not been finalized, I thought I’d discuss what has been brought to light in the last few weeks.
Location Option #1: San Francisco
Unlike the previous location near the Presidio that Lucas originally was going for, the city has been talking in the last few months, about offering him a place on a man-made island, dubbed Treasure Island.
The ‘island’ in question, was actually created by landfill, and is attached to the smaller, Yerba Buena Island. Both landmasses sit between San Francisco and Oakland, and are only accessible by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island, at over 568 acres, was originally constructed in the 1930’s, for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. With the country entering into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Naval and Auxiliary Air Station was soon located there.
For some time now, the city has been trying to redevelop it into a tourist destination. One difficulty towards this is that the only access point for many, would be along the Bay Bridge, and an additional network of roadways and ramps would be necessary to make it more easily accessible for the typical volume of tourist traffic.
Word has been ‘floating’ around, that a water-taxi service could be put into place, to allow persons from the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf areas to the west, to travel to the island. Though the Mayor has happily mentioned this in a few articles I’ve read, I doubt Lucas will expand his proposed monetary amount to include added infrastructure improvements. I’m sure that will need to be something the city will need to consider.
Even so, current word is that the plans for the island’s rehab, will be a 2o-year, $5 billion project. The island will be rehabbed to become almost like a floating neighborhood on the bay. Plans call for park, office, residential, retail, and hotel space…and it’s a good bet that the city would love for the museum to become the crown jewel of the project.
There may be an advantage to coming back to San Francisco for George. Given he chose them originally, but came back after attempting to look elsewhere, the city may be a little more eager to work with him, than the Presidio board was a few years ago.
Also, unlike Chicago that sees him as an arrogant billionaire, George is more of a hometown hero for the city San Francisco. Basing much of his Lucasfilm production company around the Bay Area, and even consolidating his numerous facilities (Lucasfilm, Lucasarts, and Industrial Light & Magic) into the Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005, when the facility opened.
It should also be noted that Treasure Island also figured into a Lucasfilm-produced film.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father attempt to leave Germany, by way of the Berlin Airport. Treasure Island‘s Administration Building, ended up serving as the exterior for the establishing shot.
Location Option #2: Los Angeles
Though George Lucas is a filmmaker, many assume that he harkens from the City of Angels, where the filmmaking capital of the world resides. However, Lucas over the years, has often made mention that he shuns the moviemaking system there, and since the 1970’s, chose to make and finance his own films, in the San Francisco bay area (like his friend, Francis Ford Coppola).
However, his journey becoming a filmmaker did send him to the city, where he studied at The University of Southern California (USC), which has also churned out a number of famous filmmakers including Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and many others.
Throughout the years, George has not forgotten his alma mater, and has often made generous donations to their film school. One of the biggest donations he made was in 2006, which totaled $175 million, and a more recent donation in the fall of 2015, was as a means to promote diversity in filmmaking.
Just south of the main USC campus, lies Exposition Park.
Originally a racetrack and fairground area (word was camels were even raced here!), it was re-developed in 1909, and much of the rather ‘unsavory fare’ of the day, was soon replaced by gardens and museums.
With the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium at its center, and several other sports-based structures at its southern area, the bulk of its museums are along Exposition Blvd areas close to USC.
These museums include:
- The California African American Museum
- The California Science Center
- The National History Museum of Los Angeles County
Current word is, that the city of Los Angeles is offering Lucas a spot on the Exposition Park grounds, though just where the facility could be built, noone has said.
Much like San Francisco’s Presidio Park and Chicago’s Museum Campus, Exposition Park does offer something for families and schools to partake in, allowing one to experience several different places in a short walking distance from each other.
The park did make the news a few years ago, when its Science Center, became the final resting place for the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Analyzing the Choices
Though the Treasure Island location has been mentioned regarding San Francisco, there’s been no solid word on just where in Los Angeles Lucas may see as a potential site. The Exposition Park location, has been the only one mentioned verbally so far in the news regarding Los Angeles.
Word is that both cities are being given 18 months to submit proposals to Lucas and his board members, after which, a decision will be made. Hopefully, third time will be the charm, and there will not be an overly-picky non-profit organization that will step forward.
Unlike the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations, if one looks at the two areas currently being offered, Lucas may have to make a compromise.
Both of his previous locations, were near an area with other museums, but also nestled in a nature-like area, near a body of water.
The two current choices, do not come with all these things:
- The Treasure Island location would afford Lucas a chance to build his museum in San Francisco, and get the watery/natural view he’s so eager to have…but the museum will most likely be seen as a singular tourist destination, with no word on any other museums or learning facilities nearby.
- The Exposition Park location would put Lucas among a number of the city’s prominent museums, and also place him next door to his world-famous alma-mater. However, there is a limited amount of space currently available, and one wonders if the footprint of the museum would need to be shrunk down further than its last iteration. Plus, the fact that the park area is landlocked, means that a more sprawling natural environment, may be out of the cards. One could almost imagine maybe putting the museum in the center of the park’s famous rose garden, but I’m sure that would ire a lot who view the 7.5 acre garden as important to the park’s heritage.
Word is that like the Chicago proposal’s design, organic architecture will also be used for the California location. The MAD Architect firm from China, is still being considered for the design-work, and word is they have reviewed the site at Treasure Island. One rumbling is that the design will be similar to Chicago’s natural look, but with more windows.
At least we can be sure that in both of these cities, the architecture will be met more favorably than the negative bashings from the Midwestern peons, who dubbed the Chicago design, as “a salt pile,” or “Jabba the Hutt.” But then again, organic architecture is largely a foreign concept to a world filled with buildings that are more angular than organic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Lucas Museum is being fully embraced by those in California.
Recently, the CEO of Salesforce named Marc Benioff, took to social media, feeling that the city of San Francisco should ask for more “social support” from Lucas, if he wishes to build there. Benioff’s feelings were that additional money should be donated by Lucas, for schools, hospitals, and homeless programs.
It seems that even back in California, you can’t please everyone, and I guess in the 21st century, it’s tough to be a philanthropist.
Epilogue…and one more vision from the past…
And that brings us to today. While much of social media is filled with persons congratulating the Friends of the Parks group and vilifying Lucas as a maniacal foreign outsider, very little word has been coming out of California, as the details are still being worked out.
Though I’m sure I’ll be keeping tabs on (and blogging about) the future decisions for the Museum, and trying to keep the facts straight since so many online have not really grasped the history of the project, or the ups-and-downs of what even went on in Chicago over the last 2 years (many on social media couldn’t get their facts straight on which location the museum was originally going to be built on!).
Though in the wake of the death of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago, some new information has been released in the last few days.
A number of firms were commissioned to come up with designs for the lakefront museum. Though the only designs shown were from the MAD architect firm in China, word has recently surfaced that New York-based architecture firm, OMA, also did some design concepts. In the last few days, they have been showing several of the images they did on their Instagram accounts, revealing what they proposed.
Unlike the more amorphous look with no right-angles that MAD made, what OMA designed, was more angular in design, with a translucent outer-dome area above, almost making it look like a jellyfish.
The museum in their design, would seem to ‘float’ above the area, with the space below it re-purposed from the parking lot, into “a new urban park.” Though whether the museum would have underground parking, they didn’t say.
The concept would be that the main area of exhibition, would be on the extended, “suspended galleries” that spread out from the central ‘atrium tower.’ The upper levels would be protected by a ‘membrane’ of ETFE pillows (a high-strength, translucent polymer).
In one of their descriptions, OMA claims that the building’s design, offers “8 times the public space it occupies,” in its hovering state.
It was nice to see what OMA proposed for the site, and does make one wonder, now that the dream is dead in The Windy City, if we may see additional architecture firms show their own ideas for what might have been for this “world-class city’s” chance to move further into the world of narrative art.