The Empire Turns Back: George Lucas Museum to Leave Chicago Amid Controversy
It’s not quite Brexit. But on Friday George Lucas announced that he had abandoned plans to build his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago. Now the museum’s director, Don Bacigalupi, says the Star Wars filmmaker is “engaged in due diligence on sites in San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
The decision to leave Chicago had been expected for weeks. Lucas had hoped to build on a parking lot near Soldier Field, and in 2014 he released renderings of a mushroom-like building by Ma Yansong of Los Angeles- and Beijing-based MAD Architects (best known for a pair of sinuous condo towers near Toronto). The structure was 400,000 square feet (if “square feet” can be applied to a building with seemingly no right angles). But in late 2014 a group called Friends of the Parks filed suit, claiming the city had no right to convey waterfront land, held in a public trust, to the museum.
In September, the museum released a revised design, scaled down by about 25 percent. But the Friends of the Park group wasn’t mollified. In February, a federal judge declined to dismiss its suit, meaning the litigation might have dragged on for years. And when the city offered another site —McCormick Place East, a convention center designed by Mies van der Rohe protégé Gene Summers — Friends of the Parks stated its intent to block construction at that location too.
Lucas, who is married to a Chicago native, Mellody Hobson, lost patience with the Friends group. "No one benefits from continuing their seemingly unending litigation to protect a parking lot," he said in a statement Friday.
Lucas had previously sought to build the museum on the Presidio, a former military base at the northern tip of San Francisco, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But his proposal, a neoclassical pastiche by Urban Design Group of Dallas, was derided as out-of-place and the plan failed to win approval.
In recent months, Lucas began considering a different San Francisco site: Treasure Island, a flat, man-made rectangle alongside the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The island was built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, is largely vacant, and has spectacular views in nearly all directions. Los Angeles is also in the running. Mayor Eric Garcetti has publicly asked Lucas to build in the City of Angels, but no specific location has been named.
Whichever site is chosen, Ma is still the museum’s architect, according to Bacigalupi. Ma recently told RECORD that he had already visited the Treasure Island site.