By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor
Los Angeles—Chicago wanted it, San Francisco wanted it, but it’s Los Angeles that will become home to the $1 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. The board of directors of the Museum—the creation of renowned filmmaker George Lucas—will erect the approximately 275,000-square-foot cultural institution in the city’s underserved Exposition Park neighborhood.
San Francisco, Lucas’s hometown, and Los Angeles had been neck and neck in the competition for the Lucas Museum. “Settling on a location proved to be an extremely difficult decision precisely because of the desirability of both sites and cities,” the board noted in a prepared statement. “While each location offers many unique and wonderful attributes, South Los Angeles’s Promise Zone best positions the museum to have the greatest impact on the broader community, fulfilling our goal of inspiring, engaging and educating a broad and diverse visitorship.”
The Lucas Museum will occupy a site that is currently home to two parking lots, right next door to the soon-to-be renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum sports stadium, home to the University of Southern California’s Trojans football team and temporary host site for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Conceived by MAD Architects, the building’s design—perhaps an homage to Lucas’s globally celebrated Star Wars films—can be described as a sleek, seemingly fluid spaceship having landed in the middle of seven acres of green space. The structure will encompass as much as 100,000 square feet of gallery space to accommodate an initial collection amassed by Lucas, an avid, longtime collector. The galleries will be filled with cinematic art, digital art and such traditional works as paintings by Degas and Renoir. The building will also encompass a 4,200-square-foot library, dining options, lecture halls, classrooms and, of course, state-of-the-art cinematic theaters. And because Los Angeles hasn’t yet shaken its car culture, the arts destination will also feature an 1,800-space underground parking facility.
San Francisco leaves the table having put up a good fight. For Chicago, the loss is probably a little more painful. The Windy City’s failure to secure the Lucas Museum was probably salt in a wound created by its defeat in the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Chicago—hometown of Lucas Museum Board member Melody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and Lucas’s wife–fell out of the running for the arts facility in June, despite strong support. Mayor Rahm Emanuel enthusiastically pursued the project. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner ardently advocated for it. But the Friends of the Parks organization was, well, not at all onboard. “No one benefits from continuing their seemingly unending litigation to protect a parking lot,” George Lucas, who is also chairman of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, said in prepared remarks. “The actions initiated by Friends of the Parks and their recent attempts to extract concessions from the city have effectively overridden approvals received from numerous democratically elected bodies of government.”
In Los Angeles, the Lucas Museum will be in good company. La La Land is home to the Getty Museum, which holds the number six position on the list of the top museums in the U.S., according to a 2016 ranking by travel site TripAdvisor. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is practically a stone’s throw away. And the internationally revered Los Angeles County Museum of Art and contemporary art museum The Broad are none too shabby, either.
The next step toward realization of the Lucas Museum, which is being financed by the Lucas Family, is finalization of the details. If all goes as planned, the museum will open its doors to visitors in 2021.