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George Lucas Has the Best Proposal for the Presidio, But He Still Might Lose

Caleb Pershan | September 17, 2013 | Story Politics

It has Mayor Lee’s endorsement. It’s in a classic Beaux Arts style. It comes from one of the Bay Area’s most prolific cultural figures. And it’s the strongest proposal on the table. So this being underdog-loving, billionaire-hating San Francisco, the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum might be the least popular of the three proposals being considered for the Presidio.

The plot of land that is currently home to a Sports Basement near Crissy Field is slated for a “cultural institute of distinction,” and the three finalist projects proposed to the Presidio Trust—the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, the Bridge/Sustainability Institute, and the Presidio Exchange—all fit the bill in radically different ways. Let’s take a look at them, starting with the most esoteric and ending with the most mainstream.

The Bridge/Sustainability Institute, one of the finalists from Chora, WRNS Studio, with SWA Group, Dean Weldon, and Sherwood Design Engineers, is—according to SFist—“arguably convoluted.” You could probably tell that from the number of folks behind it. “Sustainability is the defining issue of our time,” goes the proposal, which calls for more of an institution than a specific building. The rationale is that the site—with the Golden Gate Bridge as a focal point—is the perfect place to ponder “what we’ve built, what we‘ve conserved, where we have been and where we are going.” But isn’t the bridge already there, and aren’t there plenty of vantages from which to admire it? The proposal’s appeal seems to be its very amorphousness, which, let's face it, isn't very inspiring given the space.

The Presidio Exchange, by contrast, would be a park-based cultural center that would “create, curate and host unique public experiences at the Presidio.” There would be a stage venue, a free and accessible “Park Living Room” on Crissy Field from which to enjoy “cutting-edge interactive displays and art installations.” More outdoor gathering spaces and a sustainable restaurant would take shape. This would be a park, if an elevated permutation of one—and that’s because it comes from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the partner organization to the National Park Service and Presidio Trust that helped champion and deliver the original restoration of Crissy Field in the first place.

So option one is kind of confusing and option two is kind of what already exists. So what's behind door number three?

That would be the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, the only traditional “museum” in the mix. And it’s going to be built, says Lucas, if not here, then in Chicago (or maybe on Tatooine). But with that in mind, it’s not a Star Wars Museum in the way that the Disney Museum is a Mickey museum: it hopes to be a window into the digital arts, as well as a look backward at four decades of books and magazine illustration. And it's not simply a competitor to SFMOMA, the way that the Fisher collection would have been. So what's the problem?

For one thing, Lucas’ remarks regarding the other proposals—and his poorly aired grievances regarding criticisms of his own proposal in the Times—risk poisoning the well of public opinion. If there's one thing that San Franciscans don't like, it's an arrogant billionaire. Even if Lucas's museum plan is fully formed, his architectural choices tasteful, and his funding accounted for, that still doesn't guarantee that the city won't penalize him for his sense of entitlement. We are the world's leaders at looking gift horses in the mouth.

Time will tell: there are two upcoming opportunities for the public to voice opinions. The first is next week, September 23, as the teams publicly present their proposals and take questions at 6:30 pm at the Herbst Theater in the Presidio, 385 Moraga Avenue, on the Main Post. Then on October 24, a meeting of the Trust will take place which public comment can be made. Emails can be sent to

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