George Lucas has moved on. During my visit to Lucasfilm headquarters last week at the wooded Presidio in San Francisco, complete with stunning views of the misty Golden Gate Bridge, I learned that the company founder doesn’t come around much anymore, although his famed poster collection still adorns the walls.
A gaggle of Industrial Light & Magic and and Lucasfilm employees (some in costume in honor of May 4 “Star Wars Day”) came to hear me talk about the changing film industry and my book, “The $11 Billion Year,” which was for sale in the gift shop. And my warm hosts took me through the sunny commissary to grab some lunch in a conference room. One topic other than the off-record upcoming “Star Wars Episode VII”? The Lucas Museum.
I saw the priceless memorabilia that could inhabit such a place in every hallway. Now that Lucas isn’t running the day to day on Lucasfilm, ILM and “Star Wars,” he’s thinking legacy. But there’s a question about where the host city will be. Given that California-born Lucas has been supporting the economy of Marin and the Bay Area for decades, it would make sense for the museum to be in San Francisco. Lucas commissioned designs for a museum to house his collection of American art and Hollywood memorabilia to be erected on his land at Crissy Field on the Presidio. But the former army base is controlled by the conservative Presidio Trust, which has turned down Lucas (along with many other such proposals), suggesting another Presidio site that Lucas in turn rejected.
So Lucas is now considering Chicago, where his lawyer wife Mellody Hobson– and mother to his first biological child, Everest– often spends time, and whose mayor, Rahm Emanuel, sees the advantages of bringing the museum and its attendant tourists.
What worries me is that what Emanuel wants he often gets. Chicago? The museum belongs in San Francisco, and many folks including San Francisco Film Society politico and influencer Melanie Blum are actively involved in this fight. Even if it’s another location such as Piers 30-32, which former Mayor Willie Brown recently suggested as an alternative after the Golden Gate Warriors abandoned the site.
So on Star Wars Day (“may the 4th be with you!) the San Francisco Chronicle ran an update on the situation. Of a Lucas Museum on the piers, Leslie Katz, president of the Port Commission told them, “It’s certainly something worth exploring, and I’m sure we will.”
Chronicle urban design critic John King, who disliked both the Lucas Museum plan for Crissy Field and the piers Warriors arena, approves of this solution. SF Mayor Ed Lee is asking his staff to seek both public and private locations for the museum, per the Chronicle:
Lucas has said he would spend $700 million on the museum, which in theory would cover the $200 million estimated cost of rehabbing the decrepit piers. If the museum didn’t top the currently zoned 40-foot height limit for the piers, it wouldn’t need voter approval. And while “Star Wars” fans are a rabid bunch, it surely wouldn’t attract the crowds and create the traffic mess that opponents of the Warriors arena feared…”I think it has some merit,” said former Mayor Art Agnos who praised the look and feel of Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin. “I think he’s a thoughtful, sensitive developer and I’d love to see what he would do on 30-32.”
On Monday night, new SFFS executive director Noah Cowan invited me down to the waterfront to the splendid new Exploratorium for a pier side screening of Jeremy Ambers’ documentary “Impossible Light,” about how San Francisco came together to approve, finance and install computer-programmed LED lights on 300 cables of the Bay Bridge. As I watched the movie outdoors under the moonlit sky, behind it was the bridge with lights rippling across its spans and reflecting on the water. If San Francisco could get it together to do such a daunting art installation, they can resurrect the Lucas Museum.