If San Francisco has its way, visitors will be able to view the art George Lucas owns and cites as influential on his storytelling in the Indiana Jones and “Star Wars” epics, a collection that ranges from comic books to Norman Rockwell.
The billionaire filmmaker is offering to pour his own fortune into a Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to house his personal collection. While San Francisco is courting the California native with prime waterfront real estate, so is Chicago.
“It’s a healthy competition,” Tony Winnicker, senior adviser to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, said by telephone. “It’s hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment to build a public museum, cultural center and education center. Those don’t come along very often, and when they do, you’ve got to put up every effort to keep it in your city.”
The museum, with an initial estimated cost of $300 million, would house Lucas’s assemblage of art and design, from 20th century illustrations by Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, to the senate gown of Queen Amidala and Darth Vader’s costume in “Star Wars,” according to Lucas’s website.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, the hometown of Lucas’s wife, Mellody Hobson, formed a task force last month to offer a potential location after federal officials rejected Lucas’s proposal to put the museum in a national park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. In response, Lee has told his staff to prepare a proposal for Lucas by the end of the month.
The Chicago panel this week recommended 17 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline, more than 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) from San Francisco Bay. The Windy City site is currently a parking lot between Soldier Field, home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, and McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center.
“It’s a win-win for the City of Chicago, for our neighborhoods and for George and Mellody Lucas to see Chicago as their home for this great museum,” Emanuel said May 20 at a news conference. “And it will help us drive the type of tourism and convention industry that we want to see.”
The land is owned by the Chicago Park District and is near three major tourist attractions -- the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.
San Francisco last week took Lucas’s team to prospective sites in the Mid-Market district, home to Twitter Inc. (TWTR:US), and at the foot of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge near the Ferry Building. The second site, owned by the Port of San Francisco, is near AT&T Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants.
“Any big city that has a chance to have a museum of that caliber would want to have it,” said Ford Bell, president of the Washington-based American Alliance of Museums.
Lucas, 70, has strong ties to northern California. He was born in Modesto, about 80 miles east of San Francisco, the setting for his 1973 film, “American Graffiti,” which he co-wrote and directed.
Lucasfilm’s visual effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, is based in the Presidio, marked by a fountain topped by a statue of Yoda from “Star Wars.”
Across the Golden Gate Bridge, in Marin County, is Skywalker Ranch, the headquarters for Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound, which produces sound effects and music not only for Lucas but for other filmmakers.
$4 Billion Sale
In 2012, Lucas reaped $4 billion selling Lucasfilm, which he founded in 1971, and his movie franchises including “Star Wars” and the Indiana Jones series, to the Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US)
The Lucas museum was one of three finalists for a site in the Presidio known as Crissy Field, an open area popular with joggers and families facing the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. All three proposals were rejected in February.
Lucas has been offered an alternative spot near Lucasfilm’s offices and hasn’t yet responded, said Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust.
A third contender for the museum is Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco. Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wrote to Lucas on March 5 inviting him to consider a site now occupied by the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.
“I am excited to inform you that your dream could be a reality in Oakland,” Kaplan said in the letter.
San Francisco will make a formal proposal based on discussions with Lucas’s team by the end of the month, Winnicker said.
Chicago’s push for the museum is “to be expected,” Winnicker said. “Any city and any mayor are going to covet this level of private investment by one of the world’s best-known filmmakers.”
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