George Lucas considers Chicago for museum


Patrick Tehan

Dale Tolosa, dressed as an X-wing pilot, poses for a photo shot by someone off screen with a scale model of the spacecraft during a sneak-preview of “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose, California, on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. The pop culture extravaganza, which stars a life size replica of the Millennium Falcon cockpit among other geek Holy Grails from the “Star Wars” universe, brings the George Lucas mythos back home to the Bay Area where it all began. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group/MCT)

By Melissa Harris MCT Newswire

About 100 citizens interested in luring George Lucas’ collection of art and movie memorabilia to Chicago spoke at an April 23 public hearing held by a task force trying to find a local site for the museum. 

But the Galactic Empire seemed to be otherwise engaged, as no one arrived in costume for the hearing, which was held under the world’s largest Tiffany stained glass dome in an ornate, marble-walled hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

“It would be interesting to have this type of museum because, to me, it would be hard to find anything to rival it,” said Michael Howe, a graphic designer and art school graduate who was among the first to arrive for the public hearing. “[Chicago is] not an entertainment city compared with New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.”

The 12-member task force has until mid-May to recommend a site for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The site selected by Emanuel will then compete against at least one known site in San Francisco, where the Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator launched his career and spent most of his life, as well as with sites in any other cities interested in landing

the museum. 

A museum spokesman has declined to reveal the other interested cities, but Chicago’s edge might be that Lucas lives here part time with his wife, Chicago native and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson. 

The hearing had the air of a professional business meeting with most speakers articulating very specific and developed ideas. Among the sites recommended: the Museum Campus alongside the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum; the dilapidated Uptown Theatre, which has not hosted a public event since the early 1980s; the Pullman neighborhood, where efforts are underway to create a national park; the South Shore neighborhood, including the old vacant U.S. Steel South Works site adjacent to Soldier Field; the Old Chicago Main Post Office, now vacant and privately owned, which straddles the Eisenhower Expressway; and the former Essanay film studios, now owned by St. Augustine College, where thousands of silent films where made in the

Uptown neighborhood. 

“We need to knock the socks off George Lucas,” said Chicagoan Allan Mellis. 

Mellis proposed eight prominent sites, including Block 37 in the Loop and the older part of McCormick Place, known as the

Lakeside Center. 

“It has to have a grandiose view,” said Chicagoan Joe Serblin, who pointed out that the site Lucas originally wanted for the museum in San Francisco had a spectacular view.

The museum would be on “the same physical scale as a lot of the cultural icons in our city,” said task force Co-Chair Gillian Darlow, CEO of the Polk Bros. Foundation. 

Task force Co-Chair Kurt Summers said Lucas is expecting Chicago to put “our best foot forward to show a location and a set of enhancements and connections to the city and its assets that can be a great base and canvas for his vision. We wouldn’t include the architectural design.” 

The museum, which would house more than 500,000 pieces of movie memorabilia, has been planned for construction in San Francisco for four years. But in February, a San Francisco national park board called The Presidio Trust rejected Lucas’ bayside location and offered him a less desirable site. Meanwhile, Emanuel has been pushing Lucas to consider Chicago. 

Hobson and Lucas have already committed at least $50 million to Chicago education charities. City and museum officials have pledged the facility would be built without taxpayer support. Eleven city museums operate on Chicago Park District land and receive taxpayer money that subsidizes a portion of their operations. However, whether the city would transfer land to the museum or lease land to it for an amount remains unknown.