Never Tell Them The Odds: Cities Vie To Host 'Star Wars' Collection | WYPR

Never Tell Them The Odds: Cities Vie To Host 'Star Wars' Collection

Jun 19, 2014
Originally published on June 19, 2014 7:12 pm

A short time ago, in a city not far away, Star Wars creator George Lucas decided to build a museum to house his movie memorabilia and his art collection.

There's just one looming question: Where should it go?

Lucas says he'll spend $300 million of his own money to build the proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum and will provide a $400 million endowment after his death. In addition to holding Skywalker artifacts galore, the museum would also host Lucas' private art collection, featuring works by Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth, among others.

But after Lucas' original planned location fell through, it's not clear where the museum will be located. San Francisco and Chicago are both trying to win the right to host the museum, and Los Angeles just entered the fray as well.

San Francisco: 'It Is Our History'

The story begins in San Francisco, not far from Skywalker Ranch, Lucas' moviemaking center in Marin County.

Lucas originally wanted to build his museum in the San Francisco Presidio — a federal park near the Golden Gate Bridge. But park officials rejected that idea.

Now San Francisco officials are scrambling, trying to persuade Lucas to consider another site. They're offering a scenic waterfront location along the Embarcadero, the road that runs along the San Francisco Bay.

Mayor Ed Lee points to the area's Star Wars history to explain why the city wants to persuade Lucas to stay in the region. Lucas' ranch is nearby, and the Letterman Digital Arts Center, LucasFilm's headquarters, is located in the city.

"Digital Arts, through George Lucas' wonderful works, started here," Lee says. "To have that museum right here under his name would be a wonderful tribute to that. It is our history, and that's why we want George to be here."

But Lee knows that first rejection, of the Presidio location, opened the door to competition.

Chicago: Lucas' Second Home

In Chicago, city leaders say they're up to the fight to bring the Lucas Museum to their city. Kurt Summers, co-chairman of the task force that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel directed to find a location for the museum, casts the struggle in familiar terms — like the dark side of the Force against the light.

"We are the protagonist in sort of a good versus evil," Summers says. It's not hard to imagine whom he sees as the Evil Empire. "We engaged fully ... and that created real competition. The result of that [is] we saw San Francisco step up its game as well."

The potential home of the Lucas Museum is near Chicago's lakefront, on the city's Museum Campus. The city would convert 17 acres that are currently home to two parking lots behind Soldier Field, the stadium home of the Chicago Bears.

Chicago would lease the land to Lucas for $1. City officials believe adding his museum to the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium on the campus would bring in a couple of million additional visitors to the city each year, along with millions in tourist and tax revenue.

Lucas calls Chicago his second home, and he's married to influential Chicago businesswoman Mellody Hobson. That's a plus, says Summers, who believes that while San Francisco might once have had home field advantage, Chicago has a very compelling case.

Summers says he's not talking smack. But he does have a message: "I believe the Force is with us."

San Francisco would say the same thing. And so would Los Angeles, which has offered a museum-campus plan like Chicago's, at the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in the city's Exposition Park.

But as the small Jedi Yoda would say, "Impossible to see, the future is" — until the decision, which is expected sometime this summer.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

"Star Wars" creator George Lucas owns enough movie mementos to fill a museum. And when you're George Lucas, you can build that museum if you want to. And that's what he plans to do. It'll not only house the filmmaker's memorabilia, but his vast collection of artwork, too. And three cities are drawing light sabers, trying to highlight why they should be home to the museum. San Francisco and Chicago are each making a case. Los Angeles just entered the fray too. NPR's Cheryl Corley and Richard Gonzales teamed up for our report.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: This story begins in San Francisco, not far from Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas's moviemaking center in Marin County.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS MAIN TITLE")

GONZALES: Lucas says he'll spend $300 million of his own money to build the proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum and provide a $400 million endowment after his death. Here's Lucas talking about his vision, in a website devoted to the project.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE LUCAS: The museum that we're trying to build here is one that you could take the whole family to.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS")

ALEC GUINNESS: (As Ben Kenobi) Use the force, Luke.

GONZALES: The museum would be home to "Star Wars" characters, like Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, plus Lucas's private art collection, featuring works by Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth, among others. Lucas originally wanted to build his museum in the San Francisco Presidio, a federal park near the Golden Gate Bridge, but park officials rejected that idea. Now San Francisco officials are scrambling. They're trying to persuade Lucas to consider another site. Here's San Francisco mayor, Ed Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYOR ED LEE: Digital arts, through George Lucas's wonderful work, started here. To have that museum right here, under his name, would be a wonderful tribute to that. And it is our history, and that's why we want George to be here.

GONZALES: But Mayor Lee knows that first rejection opened the door up to competition.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: That's right. Cheryl Corley, here in Chicago, where city leaders say they're up to the fight to bring the Lucas Museum here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KURT SUMMERS: We are the protagonists in, you know, sort of a good versus evil.

CORLEY: Not too hard to imagine who Chicagoan Kurt Summers thinks is the evil empire. Summers is a co-chair of the task force that Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, directed to find a location for the museum here.

SUMMERS: We engaged fully, which is the only kind of way he knows how to engage. And that created real competition, the result of that, we saw San Francisco step up its game as well.

CORLEY: I'm standing now near Chicago's lakefront, on the city's museum campus. This is the potential home of the Lucas Museum. The city would convert 17 acres currently home to two parking lots behind Soldier Field. That's the stadium home of the Chicago Bears football team. So I asked people here where they think a Lucas museum should be, Chicago or San Francisco?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRANDON MARTIN: Chicago will win it hands down. It's the best city alive - I mean, more attraction. I mean, it's self-explanatory.

EMILY HOAK: Chicago. I think that there's more people that travel here from out of town to visit and check out the city. And it just seems like a cooler place for that versus San Francisco.

CORLEY: That was Chicagoan Brandon Martin (ph) and Emily Hoak (ph), who was visiting from Austin, Texas. Chicago would lease the land it's offering to Lucas for $1. City officials believe his museum, joining the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium on the museum campus, would bring in a couple more million visitors to the city each year, along with millions in tourist and tax revenue.

GONZALES: Well, not so fast there, Cheryl. San Francisco is also offering George Lucas a scenic, waterfront site for the museum, right here along the Embarcadero. It's a road that runs along the shore of the San Francisco Bay, and it offers spectacular views of the water. And when you ask anybody around here what they think, they'll tell you, the museum should be here in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOANNE HAMILTON: Oh, it should definitely be in San Francisco.

GONZALES: Why?

HAMILTON: Why not? San Francisco is better than Chicago.

GONZALES: That is Joanne Hamilton (ph). She and her friend, Ashali Sundurajan (ph), are "Star Wars" geeks.

ASHALI SUNDURAJAN: Oh my God.

HAMILTON: Magic, wonder and whimsy.

SUNDURAJAN: Right?

HAMILTON: Right?

SUNDURAJAN: I'm from Illinois, and I would still pick San Francisco. I mean, there's a reason I moved here and not Chicago. So I'm just saying.

HAMILTON: Yep.

GONZALES: Lucas calls Chicago his second home. And he is married to influential Chicago businesswoman Mellody Hobson. Kurt Summers says that's a plus. And he says, while San Francisco might once have had home field advantage, Chicago has a very compelling case. Summers says he's not talking smack, but he does have a message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUMMERS: I believe the force is with us.

GONZALES: San Francisco would say the same. And so, too, Los Angeles, which has offered its own waterfront plan. But as a small Jedi Yoda would say, impossible to see, the future is - until the decision, expected sometime this summer. Richard Gonzales. NPR News, San Francisco.

CORLEY: And Cheryl Corley. NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS MAIN TITLE")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.