CA: Lucas strikes back with $1B museum plan

Space sneaker? MAD’s proposed L.A. design would put the museum in Exposition Park, near the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
At 72, Lucas is in a hurry.

We may soon see as many iterations of the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA) as there are films in writer-director George Lucas‘s epic Star Wars canon.

After famously collecting his toys and leaving Chicago last June rather than fight a prolonged lawsuit opposing his desired lakefront location, the 72-year-old movie mogul and storyteller has decided to give his native California another chance. This week, Lucas unveiled two new competing proposals, both featuring designs by his favorite MAD architect, China’s Ma Yansong. One would be sited again in San Francisco, where his original proposal had stalled in 2014, and the other in Los Angeles.

As envisioned, the Northern California option would be built on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, while the SoCal option would rise in Exposition Park, near the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Beijing-based Yansong, founder of MAD Architects, remains at the drafting table, despite uniformly negative reviews of his mountainous, windowless Chicago design that had prompted unflattering comparisons to the blob-like Star Wars villain, Jabba the Hut.

C3P-Zero Cost: On its website, the Lucas Museum claims it will generate more than 1,500, and burden taxpayers not at all.

This time, the architect has opted for fluid, forward-looking designs for both proposals, observed LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne. The rapid resurrection of the project also suggests that Lucas isn’t wasting time in bringing the museum to fruition.

Sources also have indicated that Lucas, who is bankrolling the $1-billion project along with his Chicago-born wife Mellody Hobson, plans to select the winning scheme within the next two to four months. Why simultaneous proposals? Call it hedging your bets, or boosting your odds, or maybe even the equivalent of proposing marriage to two people on the same day, Hawthorne speculated.

Assuming one or the other is built, a Lucas Museum would house Lucas’s personal collection of artwork. and be barrier-free, void of artificial divisions between high art and popular art, and allowing visitors to explore a wide array of compelling, visual storytelling, according to LMNA planners. The museum also will present a vast collection of illustrations and comics, and an insider’s perspective on the cinematic creative process and boundless potential of the digital medium, they added in a statement.

Treasure Island home: MAD’s San Francisco option is roughly the same size as LA’s, but becomes a new water asset.

Both proposals would be similar in size, about 275,000 sq ft, and contain 90,000-100,000 sq ft of display space. Both also are more narrow, elongated and clearly futuristic than the Chicago proposal, which featured a lumpiness that drew its fair share of derision, both from critics and the general public.

The San Francisco proposal marks a return to Lucas’s hometown, where years of negotiations over siting the museum in Presidio National Park eventually fell apart, prompting him to set his sights on Chicago. Part of a larger master plan from design giant SOM, the SF option also could do much to revive Treasure Island, an underused, man-made parcel that once served as naval base. Conceptually, if you’re going to put a compelling structural form anywhere, that’s the best place to do it, said John Rahaim, the city’s planning director, speaking with reporters.

Going home, drawing crowds

The L.A. scheme is no less compelling. A key decision to elevate the bulk of the structure and create an elongated “spaceship” will preserve ample acreage below to create a new park, as well.

Nevertheless, the proposal still would attempt to squeeze a very large new building into a site already crowded with other attractions. In addition to the California Science Center, the park currently houses the California African-American Museum, as well as a Natural History Museum.

As Lucas has learned in multiple zip codes, public opposition to the location and integration of any big project can derail a development, even one attached to his global popularity. For now, though, political forces in both San Francisco and Los Angeles appear to be lining up to endorse their own LMNA.

“I love the dynamism of this design. In a city that’s known for its bold architectural statements, this would be an incredible addition to our civic landscape”

— Eric Garcetti, Mayor, City of Los Angeles

“I’m a big fan of Ma’s architecture,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I think he’s one of the most exciting young architects in the world. I love the dynamism of this design. In a city that’s known for its bold architectural statements, this would be an incredible addition to our civic landscape.”

Unlike Chicago, local civic groups are not expected to object to either of the proposed sites.

Meantime, San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim indicated this week that she would introduce a resolution in support of the museum proposal. As she has said, “What’s not to like?” After all, in addition to cultural and job opportunities, the museum would amount to a gift, since Lucas is funding it, himself, Kim added.

Then again, that scenario largely existed in Chicago before the “dark side” intervened, and Lucas chose to bail. This time, however, the timing appears to be just right. Lucas wants to settle on a site and get started building it, and California’s two largest cities seem determined not to let the project get away this time. If it does, of course, Star Wars fans should expect yet another drawing board ‘sequel’ in 2018!