L.A. Feels the Force

Reasons unclear for decision to build Lucas Museum in LA, not Treasure Island
Fridays on the Homefront
The concept for the new museum located in Los Angeles' Exposition
Park is intended to create a space that is both futuristic and timeless. Photos courtesy of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

To the Dark Side the head Jedi has gone.

We have it on good authority that this was Yoda's reaction when the governing board of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced early this year that it had chosen Exposition Park in Los Angeles as its future home – and countless residents of the Bay Area no doubt agree with the tiny green guy.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee personally lobbied the board to choose a site on Treasure Island that was one of two finalists for the $1 billion project. He issued a statement conceding that he was "disappointed, but of course must respect the decision."

Respect aside, residents of the Bay can't help but wonder why George Lucas, the Modesto native who turned his back on Hollywood to found a movie empire in Marin, is choosing Exposition Park in Los Angeles as the site of his Modernist styled museum.

The governing board has declined requests for interviews, relying instead on an eight-sentence statement it issued to announce the decision January 10.

"Settling on a location proved to be an extremely difficult decision precisely because of the desirability of both sites and cities," conceded the statement, nothing if not magnanimous.

Architect Ma Yansong, a former protégé of Pritzer Prize-winner Zaha Hadid, submitted sleek, futurist designs for both sites. Although stating that their "hands are tied" by the museum organization's media blackout, a designer with Ma's firm MAD Architects did share the inspiration for both designs.

"Our main goal is always to increase the presence of nature in the design," said Chris Nolop last week from MAD's L.A. office. Noting that the plan is for the museum to be fronted by a large meadow that is currently site of a parking structure, he added that such a natural, organic approach "is needed here in Los Angeles."

"Almost entirely, the team that is working on the Lucas project is in Beijing," he said of his employer's headquarters. "A huge part of the office has to do with integrating Eastern philosophy into a Modern architectural context."

Nolop said the sizeable Stantec Inc. are executive architects on the project, but spokespersons for the Edmonton-based professional services firm also declined to respond to inquiries.

Noting that "each location offers many unique and wonderful attributes," the museum board's statement offers little to explain its decision, which L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has called the largest civic gift in American history. While civic leaders and media in each of the two cities made very public efforts to claim superiority over the other, few were more presumptuous than Los Angeles Magazine.