Cities battle for $1.5b George Lucas art museum
Los Angeles (CNN) The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, has decided that he wants to give a new home to one lucky city — and that is an offer to build a museum which will house his art collection.
And in true Star Wars fashion — the proposed renderings of the $1.5 billion project do look like something from a galaxy far, far away.
Lucas is considering two possible locations for the futuristic structure: Los Angeles and San Francisco.
That has started a fierce competition between the cities who both want to host the museum.
L.A. Times Architect Critic Christopher Hawthorne joined CNN’s Michael Holmes on “Newsroom L.A.” to discuss the project’s path forward.
Holmes: “There are a lot of pieces of art that he wants to display. How good is the collection?”
Hawthorne: “It’s very deep and it’s an unusual collection — in the sense that it has quite a bit of Hollywood movie memorabilia — starting with items from Star Wars. It’s also got a very deep art collection. George Lucas has been collecting art seriously for a couple of decades. It’s very heavy on what he calls narrative art: Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth — very different from the abstract, modern art that makes up the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example. So even the collection itself makes a kind of statement about the art that George Lucas thinks needs to get more attention.”
Holmes: “It’s kind of eclectic in many ways. You’ve got your Rockwells and a Renoir, illustrations by Beatrice Potter of Peter Rabbit fame. But also storyboards from The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca. That’s some pretty cool stuff.”
Hawthorne: “And Los Angeles, which is one of the cities that you mentioned is vying for this collection, has never really had a Hollywood museum. The Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences is now building a film museum on Wilshire Boulevard. That’s in the works. But this would be a rival to that and compliment to that to pay homage to Hollywood’s film history.”
Holmes: “So you have this ‘Is it Los Angeles or San Francisco rivalry.’ How desirable is a museum like this for one of those cities?”
Hawthorne: “It’s very desirable and, in fact, the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles are practically falling all over each other to give some public land to George Lucas to build the museum. Having said that, he’s had some trouble politically. He originally wanted to build it in the Presidio in San Francisco. It faced some local opposition there. He took the plan to Chicago where Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a big supporter of it. George Lucas’ wife, Mellody Hobson, is from Chicago. They had a piece of land on Lake Michigan just south of Soldier Field. That became politically controversial and it was stymied by lawsuits. So George Lucas has picked up this proposal and brought it back to the West Coast. He’s rejiggered it a bit looking at a site on Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay and a site near downtown Los Angeles in Exposition Park.”
Holmes: “It’s funny you should say that, because among the sniping, Adam Van De Water, Project Manager for the project at San Francisco City Hall, said, ‘Put yourself in his shoes. You could be on Treasure Island, where you’re visible throughout downtown San Francisco. Or you could build a museum in a park with other museums.’ He’s really having a go at L.A., isn’t he?”
Hawthorne: “The site in San Francisco is quite spectacular. It does have some issues, though: it’s tricky to get to — the only way to get there now is by the Bay Bridge — there are plans for a ferry but they are not finalized yet. The argument that Eric Garcetti makes on behalf of Los Angeles is that you have a central location near a light rail stop just across from USC and, of course, George Lucas is a USC alumnus.”
Holmes: “Of course, hadn’t thought of that. The L.A. mayor also said that this is the largest civic gift in American history. Is that true?”
Hawthorne: “It depends how you value the collection. It’s tough to say exactly how much these pieces of art are worth because no one has had a real look at the entirety of the collection. But certainly if you take a look at the heavyweight artists that you mentioned that are in this collection and you add in cost of the museum, itself, and you add in an endowment — something like $400 million — it’s close to a $1.5 billion. So certainly higher than almost any other museum of its kind.”
Holmes: “The other cool thing is that he’s funding this. I wanted to get on to the design, because there’s been some criticism. Personally, architecture is in the eye of the beholder — but I think they’re really cool. You’re the expert. What do you think?”
Hawthorne: “He’s working with a young, Chinese architect named Ma Yonsong, who came out of Qian Xuesen’s office — she’s the late, famous Iraqi architect who was based in London and died last year. He has proposed two slightly different but very futuristic designs for the museum that a lot of people have compared to the visual elements that you might find in Star Wars — and a real departure from the original proposal architecturally that George Lucas made when he was looking at the Presidio site in San Francisco. That was with a different architect and it was much more traditional. When he decided to go to Chicago, he hired Ma Yonsong, this young Chinese architect, and went for a completely different kind of architectural look.”
Holmes: “Both look fantastic. It sounds like a win/win, really. It sounds like a great idea.”
Hawthorne: “Both cities are very interested. I think the details politically are what have tripped up George Lucas. I think he’s learned over time how to play the political game more expertly.”
Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”